MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Columns

July 2, 2010

Others also deserve credit on mast project

— Perseverance pays off — a perfect example is the recent acquisition of the mast from the USS Oklahoma by Muskogee’s War Memorial Park. I want to acknowledge the hard work of all those involved. This 3-year project included several individuals who deserve recognition. This endeavor would never have become a reality without a group effort.

Rod Mish, a veteran who volunteers at the War Memorial Park, is the one who got the ball rolling. In early 2007, he called the curator at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii to see if any pieces from the USS Oklahoma were available for display in Muskogee’s war museum. The curator told him that a section of the mast had recently been found during dredging operations, but that the Navy was considering scrapping it.

Rod enlisted the help of his friend, Judy Moody, a professor at NSU, who volunteered to fill out the appropriate paperwork. She soon discovered that there was a lot of “red tape” to get through. She spearheaded this project and is due much of the credit. Since approval from the Navy was required, assistance was sought from Senator Tom Coburn’s office, as well as that of Congressman Dan Boren. State Senator Earl Garrison also wrote a letter on behalf of the War Park to the Naval officials in Hawaii, as well as the Oklahoma Military Department.

Rod called my office to see if I could help arrange for transporting the mast from Pearl Harbor to Muskogee. My assistant happened to be a long-time family friend of the commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base. This connection opened doors for transport in conjunction with training flights.

Each step of the process revealed more hoops to jump through, and many delays seemed to take us back to square one. But, not easily discouraged, museum director Rick Dennis, Rod Mish, Judy Moody and I continued to move forward. Then, rather unexpectedly, earlier this month we received a phone call from Tinker Air Force Base, telling us that an Air National Guard training flight that could accommodate the large cargo had been scheduled and the mast was being crated for transport.

The mast was transported to Muskogee by the Oklahoma Air National Guard, and was offloaded by a crane donated by Cook Construction of Fort Gibson. The 45-foot artifact weighs more than 22,000 pounds and is covered with barnacles from 65 years of being submerged. This section of the mast is technically “on loan” from the U.S. Navy and is planned as the centerpiece of a new building that Rick Dennis hopes to see built at the War Memorial Park. Preservation efforts will be performed on the mast and plans for establishing a foundation for the USS Oklahoma exhibit are being discussed.

A dedication ceremony will take place on July 10 at 10 a.m. The War Memorial Park will unveil the mast at that time. It is expected that numerous Pearl Harbor Survivors, including several from the USS Oklahoma will be in attendance, along with veterans groups and state officials. The public is invited.

I am honored to have been a part of this project and to have played a small role in bringing this valued artifact to Muskogee. But others efforts are to be applauded as well — that initial phone call placed by Rod Mish, the perseverance of Judy Moody in dealing with bureaucrats and miles and miles of red tape, the vision of Rick Dennis to expand the War Memorial Park by adding this wonderful exhibit.

Muskogee has been given a great honor — to share the story of the USS Oklahoma and commemorate the service and sacrifice of her crew. At this time of the year when we celebrate Independence Day, let us also remember those who fought and those who died preserving our freedoms. May God continue to bless America and our troops serving today.

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