WWII Artillery Park opens at Fort Miles

 

LEWES — The 16-inch gun could fire an armor piercing shell the size of a Volkswagen Beetle 23 miles — with pinpoint accuracy.

The deadly weapon from the USS Missouri now sits quietly among Cape Henlopen State Park’s sand dunes.

It’s now the featured exhibit of the growing World War II Artillery Park.

On Friday morning at Fort Miles legislators, state government officials, veterans and volunteers were joined by dozens of onlookers to celebrate the official opening of another First State tourist attraction.

The Fort Miles Historical Association, partnered with DNREC’s Parks Division, wants to make the World War II Artillery Park and nearby museum a worldwide destination point for history buffs and the waves of tourists who visit the First State’s beaches and seaside towns each year.

The ceremony coincided with the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II which was completed when a Japanese delegation signed the surrender papers on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

The massive gun barrel now mounted at the Artillery Park was part of the USS Missouri’s firepower on that historic day.

By raising $155,000 in private funds, the FMHA rescued the barrel from being chopped into scrap metal at a naval base in Norfolk, Va.

The barrel arrived at Fort Miles in 2012, and it was mounted for all to see in May. Cost of the project now has exceeded $430,000.

Fort Miles, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, served as a key coastal defense stronghold to thwart potential invaders arriving via the Atlantic Ocean in World War II.

The 400-plus members of its historical society aim to build the area into a “world class museum on an authentic site,” according to Barrel Fundraising Chairman Nick Carter.

The ceremony also saluted Robert Sauppee, a then-18-year-old Navy seaman who watched World War II officially end while perched above the USS Missouri’s deck.

In a few brief remarks on Friday, the 89-year-old Mr. Sauppee thanked all who contributed to bringing the gun barrel to Delaware while expressing deep appreciation.

Beforehand, the Reading, Pa., native recounted his recollection of the surrender more than seven decades ago. Some weren’t convinced the enemy was truly committed to ending the war and might attempt a military strike instead, he said.

Mr. Sauppee said he’d never seen so many United States warplanes patrolling over Tokyo Bay in case of any attack and a seemingly endless fleet of vessels floating nearby for further protection.

“We were a little worried about the Japanese,” Mr. Sauppee said. “They were tough people, they were good soldiers, but everything turned out OK.”

America’s worst fears were ultimately unfounded.

“The Japanese were just as good as can be,” Mr. Sauppee said. “I couldn’t hold anything against them.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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