Memorial Day Weekend at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge allowed 200 visitors to touch a piece of history as the refuge welcomed a relic of World War II.
On Saturday, May 25, the refuge held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newest addition, a 120-ton, 68-foot gun barrel that was on the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945, ending World War II.
During World War II, the refuge was the site of Fort John Custis. Fort Custis along with Fort Story across the bay in Virginia Beach protected the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the John Custis bunkers known as Battery Winslow housed two 16-inch guns, guarding the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula as stoically as the loblolly pines guard the maritime forest today. When World War II came to an end and the guns were no longer needed for defense, they were scrapped, becoming pieces of history living only through memory and a few photographs.
While the barrels housed in the Winslow Battery on Fort Custis were destroyed, not all experienced the same fate. Some were retired after the war, put aside and forgotten. One barrel came off of the U.S.S. Missouri Battleship, Barrel #393 was placed on the Missouri toward the end of WWII. It was present during the surrender of the Japanese and went on to defend our troops throughout the Korean War.
The day of the ribbon cutting, visitors went on to watch, as Battery Winslow became the official home of Barrel #393.
Representatives from the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy were speakers as well as a representative from the Battleship Missouri Memorial who was visiting all the way from Hawaii. Veterans from all branches of the military made their way around the barrel and through the battery as they greeted one another and took in the living history. Both Winslow Battery and Barrel #393 were recognized as important defenders of the U.S. during World War II.
One very special guest, Alan Stanz, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee opened the ceremony with a gorgeous rendition of the national anthem on his saxophone. Alan Stanz was the visitor services manager at the refuge when he heard about Barrel #393 two years ago. The day of the ceremony, Stanz was able to see his vision become a reality.
We may be reminded on the refuge that sanctuary has not always been an option. The soldiers who gave their lives fought in places of terror and chaos, where jungles, deserts and seas have been battlegrounds in the pursuit of peace.
As Barrel #393 has found a home on this National Wildlife Refuge, may the veterans returning from war also find tranquility on refuges throughout the nation where they can breathe in the beauty of our nation and feel the freedom they have risked their lives to provide. May the memories of fallen soldiers come to life for future visitors to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. Just as we pause and listen for the call of a songbird in the canopy, we also pause to give thanks to those who fought for places like this.
Submitted by Jennifer Lewis, visitor services specialist at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge