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Fundraiser to support new deck for USS Little Rock

USS Little Rock steams off El Morro Fortress, on the northwest tip of San Juan, Puerto Rico, circa 1960. An old cannon can be seen in the fort, including 5 muzzle-loading types at left and a late-19th century breech-loading rifle at center.

The wood-planked deck on the USS Little Rock anchored at Canalside has been exposed to decades of harsh winter weather in Buffalo, N.Y.

Now, it’s time to replace the deck that thousands of visitors have walked annually since 1979, getting a firsthand look at the only decommissioned U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser available for public inspection.

Workers recently began tearing up the worn pressure-treated lumber and installing a long-lasting vinyl-type decking, though more money is needed to complete the half-million-dollar project.

To accomplish that, supporters of the military and fans of hometown baseball will have the chance to perform a double play May 17 at Coca-Cola Field, when a portion of proceeds from discounted tickets purchased in advance for the Buffalo Bisons game will be donated to help pay for the Little Rock’s redecking at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.

The event is being billed as “Armed Forces Tribute Day” at the downtown ballpark. Organizers say they hope for a big turnout so that the balance of money can be raised.

So far, $275,000 in donations and grants has been secured.

“Safety for the visitors is our first priority, and second is preserving the historical monument that is the USS Little Rock, the only guided-missile cruiser that is open to the public in the United States,” said Robbie Ann McPherson, a member of the Naval and Military Park’s board of directors.

Replacement of the deck’s protective wooden planks, laid atop the ship’s steel surface, represents a major improvement, according to retired Army Col. Patrick Cunningham, executive director of the park.

“The original deck was made of teak, then replaced with pressure-treated lumber, and now we’re using a vinyl-type material to cover the deck,” Cunningham said of the 610-foot-long missile cruiser, which arrived in Buffalo in 1977 and opened to the public two years later.

Workers are replacing the starboard deck from the “missile house” to the lower part of the superstructure. Once that is completed in mid-May, the second phase will start with removal and replacement of the deck on the port side from the missile house to the forward part of the superstructure.

Phase three, the entire forward deck from the superstructure to the bow of the ship, Cunningham said, will begin after the balance of funds needed for the project is raised.

Funding for routine maintenance and extensive repairs, such as the decking, depends in part on donations, according to park officials. In addition to the Little Rock, the park also features two other decommissioned vessels, the USS The Sullivans, a destroyer; and the USS Croaker, a submarine.

And although the vessels still belong to the Department of Defense, the federal government generally does not provide money to service the aging vessels, which makes fundraising events such as the upcoming baseball game an important means of support.

The Bisons are offering discounted reserved seat tickets at $10 apiece, with $5 from each ticket going to the decking project, but the tickets must be purchased in advance. Order forms for the tickets can be downloaded from the website: thegoodneighborhood.com, according to organizers.

After filling out the order form and including payment, either with a credit card, check or money order, the form should be mailed to the ballpark: attention Beth Potozniak, Buffalo Bisons, One James D. Griffin Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14203. Potozniak can also be reached by phone at 846-2040 or by email at bpotozniak@bisons.com, to answer questions.

Ticket forms can also be obtained at the Naval and Military Park’s gift shop.

There is also a ticket corporate challenge, with companies receiving on-field recognition and a salute during pre-game activities, which begin at 3:30 p.m., prior to the 4:05 game start. The “Outta the Park” challenge requires a donation of at least $3,000 for 300 tickets or more, while the “Home Run” is $2,500 for 250 tickets. The “Triple Play” challenge is $1,500 for 150 tickets, and the “Double Play” is $500 for 50 tickets.

“It is only through the great sacrifices of our service men and women that we are able to enjoy such freedoms as attending the game of baseball, our nation’s pastime,” said Brad Bisbing, the Bisons’ public relations director. “The Bisons have a long-standing tradition of supporting and honoring all our great armed forces.”

While Naval and Military Park officials say they are focused on helping promote the upcoming baseball game, they pointed out additional funds are needed to cover the cost of significant damage to the hull of The Sullivans caused by a heavy ice buildup this winter. The ship is named for five brothers who died in World War II when their vessel was sunk in the Pacific Ocean.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to repair the hull can do so by making out a check to the park and mailing it to: Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, One Naval Park Cove, Buffalo, NY 14202.

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