120-ton WWII battleship gun barrel from USS Iowa headed to Fort Story
The Virginian-Pilot May 22, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — After years of fundraising to save a historic World War II battleship gun barrel that seemed destined for a scrapyard, a nonprofit organization will finally give it a permanent home at Fort Story Tuesday.
The barrel is expected to be another popular tourist attraction on the Virginia Beach military base, which is operated by the U.S. Navy. It’s also home to two historic lighthouses and the site of the First Landing at Cape Henry, where the English settlers arrived in 1607, before moving on to Jamestown.
The 120-ton barrel, measuring nearly 70 feet long, was used on the battleship Iowa. It was the last of nine that remained at a storage facility in Chesapeake.
Coast Defense Study Group, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving U.S. defense equipment, has worked with the Veteran’s Association of the USS Iowa to find the barrels new homes at memorials and parks in various states.
Over the last five years, the group raised $175,000 to restore and relocate this last one. It was covered in rust and needed to be cleaned and painted. The money is also paying for it to be transported and lifted onto concrete foundations next to the original Cape Henry Lighthouse, another attraction on the base.
In March, Virginia Beach approved a donation of $35,000 from a tourism fund to help support the barrel move, citing the popularity of the lighthouse tours, which are open to the public.
When the barrel fundraiser ramped up last May, Capt. Michael Witherspoon, commander of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, said it would be an honor to showcase the noteworthy armament at a site known for its historic significance.
“The Navy liked this because it’s sort of like the tourist zone,” said Terry McGovern, spokesperson for Coast Defense Study Group. “So this way, when they (visitors) go to the lighthouse, they can see the barrel, too.”
The site will feature signs about the USS Iowa and its heritage, honoring veterans who served on the battleship during WWII, the Korean War and the Cold War. It will also recognize the U.S. Army’s role in providing coastal defenses at Fort Story using similar equipment.
The Iowa was based in Norfolk. In 1989, it was the scene of one of the worst peacetime tragedies to befall a U.S. Navy ship. In what was supposed to have been a routine test-firing of the ship’s guns, 47 sailors died during an accidental turret explosion.
The barrel will be transported from Portsmouth to Virginia Beach late Monday night. A dedication ceremony will be held at a later date.
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