'It belongs here': Decades later, WWII veteran returns megaphone to Battleship Wisconsin

Sandy Philliben of Milford, Michigan and her 9-year-old son Sean read on July 23, 2003 about the USS Wisconsin, docked in Norfolk, Virginia.


By LEE TOLLIVER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: May 19, 2017

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A.J. Earnhardt had just finished installing a public address system at the Army installation on Manila in the Philippines when the speakers blared out an announcement.

The United States was dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

It was Aug. 6, 1945, and Earnhardt wondered if his brother on the USS Wisconsin, off the coast of Japan, was aware of the situation. If he was, he likely was informing the crew on a huge megaphone typically used on the loud decks of battleships.

When the war ended and the Earnhardts returned home to Hampton Roads, Hilbert Franklin Earnhardt had possession of one of the portable loudspeakers. Hilbert Earnhardt was a "plankowner" on the ship, meaning he was one of the original crew members when the ship was commissioned in 1944.

And sometime before his death more than a decade ago, he gave the megaphone to A.J.

"I don't really remember when, though," said Earnhardt, 95, of Chespeake.

Earnhardt on Wednesday presented the historical item to Wisconsin museum curator Martha Walker in the shade of turret one on the deck of the massive warship.

"We don't have one of these and I think the perfect place is in the 'Gun, Sweat and Gears' exhibit on the third floor," Walker said. "The ship went through refurbishment so many times over the years that lots of the original equipment is gone.

"This is quite a treat ... quite a gift."

The Army-green megaphone is in pristine condition and features a large control box that housed a car battery. The actual speaker is about twice the size of modern ones.

Bob Parrish found it in his friend's attic while clearing out a bevy of old items.

"He asked me to help get rid of a bunch of stuff," Parrish said. "I came on this and he figured it belonged with the ship."

A.J. Earnhardt, originally from Salisbury, N.C., came to Norfolk to work at the shipyard before being drafted in 1944. He was commissioned in Fort Bragg on July 4, 1944, he noted – and the service misspelled his name.

"My name is Allen and they spelled it Allan," Earnhardt said. "On my first passport I had to have both."

He served two years in the Army before returning to Norfolk to finish his career at the shipyard, where he advanced to a high civil service ranking – GS 13 – before retiring in the early 1970s.

His wife is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease, and he sits with her every other day.

"He's amazing," Parrish said.

Earnhardt was pleased that his brother's megaphone was back on the ship.

"It belongs here," he said.

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The battleship USS Wisconsin steams through the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield in October, 1990. The Wisconsin, which had been decommissioned in 1958 after seeing action in World War II and the Korean conflict, was returned to service with capabilities for launching Tomahawk missiles in 1988. Following the Gulf War, it was again decommissioned on September 30, 1991.

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