I read with consternation that the beloved tank in Burns Park is being recalled by some officious federal bureaucracy. Several generations of kids have climbed all over that and now this. Am I the only one spittin' mad that the government is repossessing our heritage by taking back all our static military displays?
-- Martin Niemoller,
North Little Rock
It was wholly a pleasure to hear from you and to join you in your outrage. I'm reminded of that famous poem about the Nazis in Germany. Here's a modern take:
"First they came for the Burns Park tank, and I did not speak out --
"Because I didn't live in North Little Rock.
"Then they came for the Air Base C130, and I did not speak out --
"Because I did not live in Jacksonville.
"Then they came for the M110A2 Self-propelled 175mm Gun in Walnut Ridge, and I did not speak out --
"Because I did not live in Lawrence County.
Then they came for Lady Baxter -- and there was no one left to speak for her."
Indeed, the U.S. Army Center of Military History, which technically owns the Burns Park M60 Main Battle Tank and all static military displays, has ordered the repossession of the vehicle. The news hit the community hard.
The center oversees all federal historical military equipment and claims the tank needs to be returned "for service and maintenance."
Say, what? It's not likely the Cold War-era tank will be put back on active duty. The U.S. now has the M1A2 Abrams and the outmoded M60 was shipped off years ago to allies such as Turkey and Israel.
And the 50-ton Burns Park display isn't the only one scheduled to be repossessed. There are M60s on display in front of the VFWs in Jonesboro, Star City, Blytheville and Hamburg. Also in DeSoto Park in Hot Springs and on a hill at Camp Robinson.
And it's not only the tanks being recalled. There are old fighter jets parked from Siloam Springs to Pocahontas and artillery from Mena to Lead Hill.
The 175mm artillery piece in Walnut Ridge is in front of the courthouse. Vietnam-era UH-1 "Huey," helicopters can be found on display in Rogers and Fayetteville, and MGR-1 Honest John surface-to-surface rockets are in front of the high schools in Trumann and Turrell. The list goes on.
All are to be hauled away to Washington's Fort Lesley J. McNair and environs by order of the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
Regrettable for central Arkansas will be the loss of the historic C-130A parked at the front gate of Little Rock Air Force Base. This very "Herc" was the last C-130 to escape from Vietnam on April 29, 1975. Its absence will leave a huge void.
But even that pales in comparison to the Army Center's plans to remove the venerable Lady Baxter cannon from the lawn in front of the Old State House Museum.
The center's claim to this Arkansas historic treasure is tenuous at best and smacks of the same revisionist argument that has eradicated Confederate statues and memorials across the land.
The cannon, however, does not fall into the same category as, say, a statue in a Memphis public park to slave trader/Klan leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, but it did have its beginning in a foundry in New Orleans in 1861.
The cannon is a Confederate copy of a United States Model 1841 64-pounder siege gun, a navy artillery piece designed to fire explosive shells.
It was mounted on the gunboat CSS Pontchartrain, and saw action on the Mississippi, White and Arkansas rivers until late 1862 when it was transferred to Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post. Union forces captured the fort and its artillery in January 1863, but left the damaged cannon behind.
It was repaired and transferred to the defense of Little Rock, which fell in September 1863. Before evacuating the city, Rebel forces spiked the gun. It was re-bored in 1874 and mounted at Markham and Scott streets by the supporters of Elisha Baxter in the disputed gubernatorial race between Baxter and Joseph Brooks.
This was the so-called Brooks-Baxter War. Baxter won, although Lady Baxter never fired a shot. She was retired to her brick pedestal as a memorial to the "war" and has been there for 144 years.
Lady Baxter survived a World War II scrap drive, but I fear the Army's current claim that she was declared "hors de combat" in the Civil War and a prize, or "celui qui le trouve le garde," will be her undoing.
Until next time, Kalaka notes the Army has offered to replace Lady Baxter with a 12-pounder bronze Napoleon, Model 1857 on loan from Pea Ridge. It won't be the same.
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HomeStyle on 07/14/2018
Print Headline: Military relics disappearing faster than decorum