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Life ring from USS Arizona is displayed in Mass. World War II museum

By HENRY SCHWAN | MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass. | Published: December 5, 2018

NATICK, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Take a walk through the International Museum of World War II, round a few corners, and there it sits, encased in a glass, sitting upright at an angle on the floor.

The new addition to the museum's permanent collection is a life ring that was aboard the USS Arizona when it was sunk by Japanese fighter planes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Friday is the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the ring is a reminder of the largest loss of life for the U.S. Navy at the time – 1,177 of the battleship's 1,512 crewmen perished.

Ken Rendell, the museum's founder, paid just more than $104,000 for the ring, and it arrived from Pennsylvania a few weeks ago.

"There's no doubt in anyone's mind (that it's authentic)," said Susan Wilkins, the museum's education director.

Before Rendell bought the ring at auction, curatorial experts examined its materials, design and lettering and said it was authentic to the Arizona. The attached hemp hangers are original. So is the canvas that covers the cork interior, and that canvas shows some tattering along the edges.

"U.S.S. Arizona" is stenciled in bold, black letters along the upper curve, with "BB 39," the Navy's official designation for the battleship Arizona, stenciled along the bottom.

There is also some staining, and Wilkins said it's from oil that poured from ships attacked at Pearl Harbor.

How the ring got to Natick begins with Navy Chief Petty Officer Allan Randle Moyers. He bought it from a sailor who was part of the rescue operation, and, according to Moyers' oral history, the ring saved a sailor's life that fateful day.

About 3,500 students visit the museum annually, and Wilkins said the ring helps connects visitors to America's stance on the war before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just a few feet away from the ring, a case contains documents from the America First Committee, an isolationist group that wanted America to stay out of World War II. Charles Lindbergh, celebrated for flying the Spirit of St. Louis solo and non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean — the first person to accomplish the feat — was one of the committee's spokesmen.

There were also economic sanctions imposed on Japan by President Franklin Roosevelt for its expansion into southeast Asia, and Wilkins said U.S. officials thought Japan might engage in a reprisal, but nothing like the Dec. 7 attack.

"There was never a thought the Japanese would pull something off on this level," Wilkins said.

When the ring arrived at the museum, it was a "wonderful surprise" to Wilkins, because Rendell never told her it was coming.

Wilkins taught history at Newton North High School for 15 years before joining the museum, and she called the ring a "powerful artifact."

"It tells an important story in American history," Wilkins said. "It's a connection with history, and it helps make a connection to a time that's not so distant, after all."

©2018 MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass.
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