- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Over breakfast one morning almost a year ago, Steve Owen asked his brother-in-law, Ken MacLeod, a builder of model tanks and trains, if he would be interested in a project for the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock.

The task? To use model ships, boats and planes to create a diorama of how Pearl Harbor looked just before the attack by Japan on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, that plunged the United States into World War II.

After nine months and about 1,500 man-hours by MacLeod and two of his Cabot neighbors and fellow model builders, Dix Wood and Bill Owens, a 10-foot-by-10-foot, lighted diorama is to be placed on permanent display at the Maritime Museum in time for a Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremony Dec. 7. All three men are retired veterans who saw duty in the Pacific region — Wood and MacLeod in the Air Force, Owens in the Navy.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/21znZ99 ) reports that the diorama shows the ships along Battleship Row — certain ones will light up when a viewer flips a switch — and the airplanes lined up in single file at Ford Island Naval Air Station. There’s also the Pacific Fleet Headquarters, submarine base and the Naval Hospital. Monopoly game pieces were used as examples of military base housing, and inverted, painted Coca-Cola bottle caps display oil tanks, among other innovations. Plywood painted blue represents the harbor waters, waves and all.

“It’s a hobby of mine, building models,” MacLeod said recently at Complete Care Inc. in North Little Rock, where the diorama was built and stored. “I mostly build armor (tanks) and trains. I’d never built a boat before.”

Steve Owen, president of Complete Care, a payment processor for health care providers, is a member of the Maritime Museum’s board of directors.

“I had the space for it in our building,” Owen said of the diorama, which he said grew as the work progressed. “The goal was to have it ready for Dec. 7.”

None of the three model builders work at the business.

“We came over about three times a week,” Wood said. “All three of us, we all served in the Pacific. That makes it even more personal to us.”

Owen said, “Once they got into it, I couldn’t keep them out of here.”

A prominent piece, and the biggest reason for the diorama’s importance to the Maritime Museum, was the presence of the USS Hoga tugboat during the Pearl Harbor attack.

The almost 75-year-old Hoga, a designated National Historic Landmark that has been owned by North Little Rock since 2005, is to become a major feature at the museum alongside the World War II submarine USS Razorback. The Hoga fought fires on the USS Arizona battleship and pulled survivors from the waters during and after the attack.

The Hoga arrived in North Little Rock from the West Coast on Monday and will be dedicated during the Pearl Harbor ceremony that begins at 2 p.m. Dec. 7. Owen acted as lead for arranging the transport of the Hoga, which began in late September but had been planned since the city took ownership of the boat from the Navy 10 years ago.

Owen said the diorama will continue to be a work in progress and that he wants to have more than one model of the Hoga at different spots on the display, with the ability to be lighted by museum visitors. The multiple positions will show where the tug was docked during the attack, where it fought fires on the Arizona and where it pushed the badly damaged Nevada battleship away from blocking the harbor entrance at Hospital Point.

“She was working the day of the battle and in the days to follow,” MacLeod said of the Hoga.

“She was all over,” Wood said.

The three men used as their guide for the diorama an aerial photograph of Pearl Harbor taken the day before the attack and from a map showing positions of all ships and the vital landmarks. The map, which came from the Arizona Memorial Museum Association at Pearl Harbor, will accompany the display, Owen said.

“We’ve been trying to do it as close to what it was like then,” said Owens, who did the wood working. “I’ve been to Pearl Harbor and seen it, after the war, of course. It looks like it’s going pretty well true to form.”

Parts of the diorama were disassembled this week to be moved to the museum and put back together in time for the Dec. 7 ceremony, Owen said. All of the model boats come off, while most everything else is glued down and the lighting is pre-wired. Plexiglas to form a protective wall around the display will be added once the diorama is reassembled at the museum, Owen said.

“This project is real gratifying to me,” Owen said. “To be able to have school kids come in to see this and actually be able to visualize the scene and see it up close, it really brings the history to life.”

Owen’s idea for the project wasn’t original, he said. A model hobbyist in Mississippi had started the project some years ago, but lost interest, said museum Executive Director Greg Zonner. The hobbyist contacted the museum about five years ago about donating what pieces he already had to the museum. Zonner placed the parts in storage at the museum.

“The museum had it for several years,” Owen recalled. “The man had started to build a 4-by-4 diorama. I saw it there and asked Greg what they planned to do with it.”

Zonner said Owen told him he knew some “professional model builders” and asked if he could take the materials and see about finishing out the diorama.

“What I gave to them was a piece of plywood and a whole bunch of little models,” Zonner said.

With all three men having served in the military and been stationed in the Pacific, the project became more than just putting models together or re-creating a piece of American history, they said.

“It’s been a labor of love, that’s for sure,” Wood said. “It’s not been work.”

MacLeod said they would “always think about the men who were there (at Pearl Harbor) then and also about the man in Mississippi who started this.”

Owens told of his previous visit to Pearl Harbor and seeing the Arizona Memorial, “looking right down into the water at the ship still down there,” he said. “It’s a humbling experience.”

“This is a memorial to them, really,” Owens said, referring to the approximately 2,400 people who died in the attack, including 1,177 aboard the Arizona. “I spent 20 years in the Navy. It makes you think about the people who didn’t make it out.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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