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Lakewalk could host USS Duluth’s anchor

The anchor from the decommissioned USS Duluth could move from a scrapyard in Texas to a prominent spot on the Lakewalk in the ship’s namesake city. (Photo by Arnie Tyler)

The 22,500-pound anchor of the USS Duluth soon could be proudly displayed on the waterfront of its namesake community.

Don Rowe of Mentor, Ohio, said plans to preserve the memory of the decommissioned U.S. Navy ship were first hatched last summer when he and other former crewmembers of the vessel gathered in Duluth for a reunion. Initially, many of his shipmates harbored hopes of navigating the 569-foot transport ship through the seaway system to Duluth, where they dreamed of it being turned into a floating museum.

But, Rowe noted, there was one small problem.

“She was 28 feet too wide to fit through the locks. The old girl was just a little too fat,” he quipped.

Still, Rowe and his crewmates would not be deterred. Switching gears, they began to discuss the possibility of creating land-based exhibits dedicated to the ship. They began writing letters, making calls and working to track down key components of the ship that could be suitable for public display.

The USS Duluth Crewmembers Association has been working with the city and the St. Louis County Historical Society to make that dream a reality. And their procurement of the ship’s anchor could be but one large harbinger of more pieces to come for Duluth.

“We’ve been very encouraged by the enthusiasm that people in Duluth have shown,” said Rowe, who is the president of the crewmembers’ association and who served as an electronic communications technician aboard the transport ship in the 1970s.

He said he was particularly impressed by the offers of support, including free transport for the massive anchor, crane services, sandblasting, painting and installation assistance.

Daniel Fanning, communications and policy director for the city of Duluth, confirmed Thursday that Mayor Don Ness’ administration supports efforts to bring the anchor of the vessel from a scrapyard in Texas to Duluth’s Lakewalk, where it would be displayed next to a Vietnam veterans’ memorial.

John Werner, a Vietnam veteran and member of the St. Louis County Historical Society Board, said the proposed placement of the ship’s anchor strikes him as quite appropriate.

“That ship itself is a Vietnam veteran,” he said. “It saw service in the Gulf of Tonkin and during the fall of Saigon. It bore the battle scars.

Rowe confirmed that the USS Duluth saw plenty of active service during the Vietnam War and noted that a number of crew members were exposed to Agent Orange in the line of duty during that era.

The USS Duluth (LPD-6) was designed to carry supplies and to launch amphibious assaults, pairing a Navy crew with Marine attack units. It was launched in 1965 and remained in service until October 2005, seeing its final duty in the Persian Gulf, where it supported Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The ship now being scrapped was the second U.S. Navy vessel to bear the USS Duluth name. Its predecessor, a Cleveland-class light cruiser was launched in 1944, served during World War II and was decommissioned in 1949 after its bow was structurally damaged in a typhoon. It, too, was sent to the salvage yard for dismantling.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, said he’s not surprised by crew members’ desire to see the memory of the USS Duluth preserved.

“Anyone who has served aboard a Navy vessel understands the bond of service that exists between its crewmembers, even among people who didn’t directly serve together,” Reinert said.

Yet Reinert said Duluth — the city — should count itself lucky.

“As a community, we should be honored that these people, from every corner of the U.S., wanted these artifacts of the ship to come to the city that was its namesake,” he said.

Reinert said Duluth was uniquely suited to be a repository for a piece of Navy history.

“I really hope we will rally around this effort to commemorate the USS Duluth. We are a maritime community, and historically we’ve been a Navy community,” he said. “During World War II, we helped build a lot of Navy ships.”

Fanning said the Duluth Parks Commission will need to review plans for the anchor’s display before it can be installed on the Lakewalk. Final governmental approvals are pending, as well, but Fanning said everything appears to be on track.

If all goes according to plan, Rowe hopes the USS Duluth’s anchor will be on display and will ready for dedication by this August.