Delaware, the First State, has acquired its very first 16-inch naval gun, from one of the most famous battleships that ever defended our shores: the USS Missouri (BB-63), on whose deck the Japanese Empire formally surrendered to the United States and its allies on Sept. 2, 1945.
Veterans, townspeople, officials and speakers gathered in the center of Georgetown, Del., on April 16 to commemorate the arrival of the legendary weapon to their fair city - secured to a railroad flatcar. Legion Riders from Post 28 in Oak Orchard/Riverdale led a parade around the town circle. Legionnaires from other posts, as well as members of The American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion, also marched in the parade.
The big gun's final destination is the Fort Miles Historical Area at Cape Henlopen State Park, where it will be permanently displayed. Sixteen-inch guns represent the ultimate in large-caliber weapons designed for ship-vs. ship combat. They fired 2,700-pound shells that had a maximum range of 24 miles. The Missouri had nine such guns placed in three turrets, two forward and one aft. The Missouri and its three sister ships - Iowa, Wisconsin and New Jersey - were the fastest and most powerful battleships ever built by the United States.
Dr. Gary Wray, president of the Fort Miles Historical Association, said the idea of getting a battleship's gun for Delaware came up years ago when he and his associates were trying to acquire at least one gun of every caliber that had ever been used at Fort Miles. The fort had two 16-inch guns for shore defense, along with several less-powerful guns. Wray and others developed a proposal for the Navy on how the state of Delaware would transport, exhibit and maintain the gun barrel. The Navy bought into the plan and donated the 109-ton gun.
"We saved this barrel for $110,000, to get it here," Wray said. "We're blessed in the state of Delaware that, if you've got credibility, people here will get behind your project. We had over a hundred donors. Two little boys gave us $9 in cash - two little brothers, one 4 and one 6. It threw our whole bookkeeping off, because everybody gave checks." The money paid for the lifting of the gun in Norfolk, Va., transport by rail, and off-loading at Fort Miles.
Jim Gallagher, a Vietnam War veteran and commander of American Legion Post 28, said it was important to save the Missouri's gun and display it at Fort Miles, "because of the history behind the fort and what it meant to the security of the east coast. That fort, along with all the lookout towers that ran up and down the coast, they were instrumental. They sank quite a few U-boats,
"I think the history of our country needs to be preserved at every opportunity, so we remember where we were, where we are, where we're going and where we should be," Gallagher said. "We need to do more to remind the average American just what America is truly about. And our military history is a big part of that."
Shaun Rieley, assistant director of the Legion's Legislative Division in Washington, spoke at the ceremony in Georgetown. He told the crowd that his grandfather's first cousin, Joseph Johnson, was a native of their city and just barely 20 years old when he was killed in action on Oct. 9, 1944, in Metz, France. Rieley had recently been entrusted with a family heirloom: the Purple Heart awarded posthumously to Johnson.
"We are gathered here today to recognize the arrival of what can only be described as a piece of history," Rieley said. "The events associated with this gun, and the ship on which it saw service, represent a true turning point in world history. The surrender of the Japanese to the allied forces on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri stands as one of the most important events, not only in the history of the United States but, indeed, in the history of the world. Now this piece of history finds a home right here in Sussex County, Delaware."