MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 26, 2012

War park seeks funds for improvements

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Even with grant-funding projects coming in well under budget, the War Memorial Park and USS Batfish Museum needs help.

A $100,000 grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation has paid for the projects for which it was requested with some funds left over. The museum has plans to devote the approximately $34,000 remaining to more improvements.

But the money doesn’t stretch quite far enough.

“You’ve got a 70-year-old submarine out there that needs work constantly just to keep her in a state that is not disrespectful to the Navy and to the men that served on that submarine,” said volunteer Lyle Lookingbill, a Navy veteran who is devoted to the care of the museum and its artifacts.

Lookingbill and Director of Operations Rick Dennis have several proposed projects — and funding issues.

Most important for both men is recreating the Walk of Honor memorial at the museum, including a new location on the property, memorial bricks, fountain, fire pit, plaques and landscaping.

Lookingbill visited a site in Fredricksburg, Texas, and hopes to see one that will honor lost veterans just as well at the Muskogee museum.

“They have a courtyard area that is just beautiful,” he said. “It’s made to just relax and contemplate, and that’s what our reasoning is — an area of the park there for quiet contemplation or remembrance, because right now it’s not. This Walk of Honor was poorly conceived when it was initially set up. It was a good idea, but poorly conceived.”

Dennis said the $100,000 grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation has allowed them to repave the parking lot, install new footings and a mooring line for the sub and provide a safer bridge leading to the sub’s entrance.

And those projects are coming in considerably under budget — about $34,000, Dennis said.

The new Walk of Honor is within the park’s reach, but not without assistance, he said.

The project is estimated to cost between $65,000 and $68,000.

“So, obviously, we can’t do it without help,” Dennis said. “But even volunteers to plant shrubbery, donated materials such as bricks or mortar or benches would be extremely helpful.”

In addition to the Walk of Honor, Dennis said the museum has many more needs.

“We want to bring the USS Oklahoma mast indoors, protect it from the weather, and build a display or memorial around it,” he said.

Not only is the weather causing serious deterioration, Lookingbill said, but it’s disgraceful the way the state has failed to create a memorial for the battleship that was lost at Pearl Harbor.

“We have the only salvageable remains of the USS Oklahoma, and there were 429 Americans that died serving their country on board the USS Oklahoma,” Lookingbill said.

Nine battleships were at Pearl Harbor, and eight of them have a memorial in the state whose name they bore, he said.

“But our politicians have failed to memorialize their memory,” Lookingbill said.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

You can help

To offer volunteer time, materials or other donations to the War Memorial Park and USS Batfish Museum, contact Rick Dennis, ussbatfish@yahoo. com or (918) 682-6294.