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Seattle war memorial to lose battle guns, drawing criticism

A view of the War Garden in Woodland Park, Seattle. (Google Maps)

Seattle, citing safety concerns, is set to move two historic boat guns from one of its war memorials to Chehalis. It’s a decision that has angered at least one veteran who spent more than a decade with the city providing services to his comrades.

The city on Tuesday will relocate two cannon-like weapons that were aboard the USS Concord during the Spanish-American War of 1898 from the War Garden in Woodland Park to the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, according to Chip Duncan, the museum’s executive director. It’s the culmination of an effort that started about two years ago, when a member of the museum reported that the relics were neglected and in disrepair.

The city said it’s concerned about the lead in the cannon paint that’s leaching into the surrounding soil and the general danger posed to kids who climb on them. But at a time when some monuments to controversial conflicts, such as the American Civil War, are being removed from public space across the country, a local veteran fears the decision contributes to what he feels is a selective effort to erase the city’s memories of war.

Tim Humes, 69, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He spent years working on behalf of the city to make sure veterans knew they were not forgotten.

For more than a decade, he sought them out in old soldiers’ homes, prisons, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and on the streets, offering counseling, training, employment, medical treatment and other services available for free.

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The guns “are more than just the metal and the paint,” Humes said in a phone interview from his home in Seattle. “They represent all of the people who have served in all our foreign wars.”

The hardware

Battery Dewey, as the two 6-inch 30-caliber guns are known, were on board the USS Concord when it sailed into the Battle of Manila Bay under Adm. George Dewey in what would prove to be the decisive fight in the U.S. war against Spain.

The short-lived war, which lasted just months, marked the United States’ emergence as a military superpower overseas, giving the fledgling nation dominion over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

After the gunboat was retired in 1909 and broken down in Bremerton, the guns were loaned by the Navy to United Spanish War Veterans of Seattle to be placed in the War Garden. The garden, which is tucked into the southeast corner of Woodland Park, was dedicated in 1914 to the memory of veterans, city records show.

Duncan said his museum will likely display the two weapons on either side of a 5-inch 51-caliber gun from the USS Colorado, which participated in the first naval battle of the Civil War, that used to be on display in Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry.

“Our position is we don’t want to fight with anybody over” the War Garden guns, said Duncan. “But it is our mission to make sure our veterans are not forgotten and if they’re not being taken care of up there, then we can make them into a monument down here.”

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He said the person that took up the issue is paying for moving and restoring the guns.

Sanitizing history?

Seattle Parks and Recreation staff have been raising concerns about Battery Dewey for years, according to spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin.

About two years ago Duncan reached out to Seattle officials with an offer to recondition and exhibit the guns. Later, the parks department learned that the paint covering the guns contained lead, and it had leached into a “surprisingly significant” portion of the surrounding land, Schulkin said.

If the city were to keep the guns, it would cost up to $500,000 to clean the soil, restore the weapons and mount them on a child-resistant platform, according to Schulkin. She denies the decision was motivated by a political agenda.

“A few decades ago we used to put decommissioned firetrucks in park spaces for kids to play on. We would never do that now,” said Schulkin. “Our ideas about what’s safe are evolving.”

The department reached out to veterans groups and community members to communicate the reasons behind its decision, she said. Most of those contacted supported the plan, she added. The Navy approved the move last week.

The city will place a memorial plaque in place of the guns, at the suggestion of a VFW Post in Ballard, Shulkin said.

Humes’ family moved to Seattle when he was a toddler. He grew up climbing on Battery Dewey, as well as two brass 6-inch howitzers from the Civil War that are no longer in the War Garden.

“I feel like the city callously got rid of the other guns and is callously trying to get rid of these ones,” he said. “Like Seattle is trying to sanitize its long history with the U.S. Navy, hiding things in museums and cemeteries.”

“I hope that in a hundred years, the current memorials to Vietnam veterans have not also been cast aside.”

For his part, Duncan has invited Humes to speak at the dedication ceremony that will be held to unveil the weapons after their relocation. Humes says he will accept.

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© 2018 The Seattle Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.