This is a reprint of an article from the Daily Press, published September 17, 2015 by Mark St. John Erickson. Copyright 2015, The Daily Press
When you have a collection of World War II artifacts as rich and deep as that at the Virginia War Museum, it takes something special to make you stand up and notice.
That's why a half-dozen members of the board joined Curator Dick Hoffeditz outside the museum Thursday afternoon to watch the long-anticipated arrival of its newest acquisition.
Hoisted from a flatbed truck by a mobile crane, the 12-ton set of Quad 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns from the battleship USS Missouri is one of fewer than 20 of the iconic weapons to survive from World War II, when U.S. Navy ships mounted them by the thousands in an effort to shoot down attacking Japanese planes.
The deadly quartet also was aboard the ship in Tokyo Bay at one of the war's most historic moments.
"This is a witness gun," said Virginia War Museum Foundation President Larry Munnikhuysen, as he watched the rapid-fire weapon settle on a concrete pad outside the museum's entrance.
"It was on the USS Missouri at the time the Japanese surrendered and ended World War II."
Christened at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on June 11, 1944, the Missouri was armed with about 80 Bofors guns mounted in dual and quad configurations.
Each was capable of firing more than 120 40mm shells per minute, Hoffeditz said. And in sets of four, a single gun position and its 14-man crew could throw up nearly 500 rounds per minute at attacking Japanese planes, including the kamikaze that dived into the ship's side off the coast of Okinawa a few months before the war ended.
"Especially late in the war — with the Japanese sending in the kamikazes — the Navy couldn't get enough of these guns," Munnikhuysen said, describing their iconic role defending American warships and sailors in the Pacific.
"They needed them so badly that they were stripping the 5-inch guns off destroyers, replacing them with these Quad 40s and then using them as anti-aircraft picket ships. Their sole job was to shoot down enemy planes before they got to the rest of the fleet."
Despite their importance during World War II, the guns lost their front-line defensive role during the jet age that followed, eventually giving way to faster and more-accurate anti-aircraft missiles.
By the mid-1980s they were considered obsolete — and the Navy removed those that remained on the Missouri when it was reactivated for duty and modernized at the Long Beach Naval Yard beginning in 1984.
Two years later, two of the ship's Quad 40s were remounted as monuments in the center of the headquarters complex at Naval Air Station Oceana's Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach.
There they stood as emblems of the past world war until about 18 months ago, when the War Museum Foundation learned through the friend of a board member that they were no longer wanted.
"They were deemed a safety hazard," Munnikhuysen said, describing how various parts of the exposed guns had deteriorated over time.
"And the Navy didn't have the money to pay for their upkeep."
Still, the service did agree to give the rusted relics away — if the foundation would pay to have them moved from Dam Neck to the museum in Newport News.
At 12 tons each, that meant a heavy lift requiring a mobile crane and a lowboy flatbed truck — plus a price tag of nearly $15,000 that the foundation raised during the past year through private sources.
"It's an oversize load," Munnikhuysen said, as he waited for one set of the guns to arrive at the museum.
"They're going to have to shut down traffic at the Monitor-Merrimac so it can get through the tunnel."
Lifted onto a new concrete pad at about 3 p.m., the museum's Quads will require extensive restoration, including repair and replacement of numerous deteriorated components ranging from the metal flooring to the flash suppressors at the end of the gun barrels.
But the foundation already has recruited several volunteers with conservation skills proven in the work they've done to resurrect numerous other vintage artillery pieces at the museum.
It's also starting to raise the needed funds to pay for what could be a lengthy and involved process.
"When it's finished, this will be one of the largest and most important objects in our collection," Hoffeditz said, describing the Quad 40s' place among such rare and significant artifacts as a barbed-wired fence from the Dachau concentration camp and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
"And now that they're here instead of hidden away at Dam Neck, the public will have the opportunity to see them for the first time in years."