- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - At the end of its service, it took two 21 kiloton nuclear bombs to sink the USS Arkansas.

One of the United States’ oldest battleships, the Arkansas finally succumbed to the second of three nuclear blast tests held at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands dubbed Operation Crossroads. Classified by the U.S. Navy as an aging war vessel, the Arkansas was aligned with about 90 other warships in the atoll and on June 30, 1946, a 21 kiloton free fall air drop Mark III “Fat Man” nuclear bomb was dropped on the ships to test the effects of the new and devastating weapon. Less than a month later on July 24, a second 21 kiloton Fat Man bomb was imploded under 90 feet of water in the atoll, which ultimately sank the Arkansas.

The keel of the Arkansas was laid down on Jan. 25, 1910, and the ship was launched one year later in 1911. Nicknamed ‘Arky,’ the Wyoming-class battleship was awarded four Battle Stars for her long service to the Navy. At 562 feet long and 93 feet wide, the Arkansas was originally designed to sail with a crew of 1,594 and was armed with a number of 12 inch guns, the Paragould Daily Press (https://bit.ly/1GhirF8 ) reported.

In April 1914, the Arkansas was ordered to Veracruz, Mexico by President Woodrow Wilson and deployed 330 soldiers who then participated in urban combat following the ascension of Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta. When the United States entered World War I, the Arkansas joined the Sixth Battle Squadron in Britain’s Grand Fleet, yet the ship saw little action in the war.

Between World War I and World War II, the Arkansas was employed primarily as a training ship, yet at the beginning of World War II, it served escort convoy duties. On June 6, 1944, the Arkansas was anchored 4,000 yards offshore from Omaha Beach during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy and was charged with bombarding German shore batteries and fighting off enemy planes. Later that month on June 25, the Arkansas again bombarded German positions at Cherbourg, France.

Following repairs after her European service, the Arkansas sailed to the Pacific Theatre and on Feb. 16, 1945, commenced bombardments on Japanese positions on Iwo Jima. On March 25 of that year the Arkansas began a 45-day siege of Okinawa Island. It was during this time that the Arkansas reportedly fought off numerous Kamikaze attacks.

After the surrender of the Japanese, the Arkansas participated in Operation Magic Carpet where it sailed from Nakagusuku Bay, Japan to Hawaii to carry soldiers returning home.

Today, what remains of the Arkansas rests under 170 feet of water and has become a popular destination for adventure scuba divers. Still, the memory of the Arkansas remains vibrant with 129 of Gary Yarbrough’s Social Studies students at Greene County Tech Junior High in Paragould.

Over the past school year, Yarbrough’s students built an eight foot, 200 pound scale model of the Arkansas.

“Working on these types of projects helps to inspire them (students) to do their school work,” Yarbrough said. “They understand the process and it is something they all look forward to.”

Yarbrough says over the years his classes have built a number of different models including Mt. Rushmore, RMS Titanic, and life size models of aviator Amelia Earhart and Presidents James Madison, William Howard Taft and Abraham Lincoln.

“When the students start each school year they get pretty excited about what project we will be working on,” Yarbrough said. “For some of them I think a lot of it boils down to whether or not they can do better than the class before them so in a way it becomes a competition of sorts.”

Yarbrough said the Arkansas project took about 130 hours to build with 129 students working on it over the school year.

“I think it was really cool,” said ninth-grader Crystal Adams. “It was a lot of work, but I think we’re all pretty proud of it now.”

Adams explained that one of the small strands of signal flags near the bridge of the Arkansas actually spells out her name. “We kind of snuck those in there,” Adams said. “The flags are pretty small but you can see them if you know what you’re looking for.”

Ninth-grader Audrey Agee said she enjoyed working on the project. “I thought it was real fun,” Agee said. “We all got to work together on it and it gave us something different to do.”

Yarbrough said projects like building the Arkansas are not just about learning history. “I teach Social Studies and one of the things I try to teach my students is how to be social,” Yarbrough said. “One of the things I will do at the beginning of the year is I will make up teams of students to work on our annual project and I will put students together who would normally not work together otherwise. I tell my students that when they go out to the real world and get a job they may not always have a choice in who they work with and they may not always like their co-workers and that is just the reality of things so I try to get them to work together with people who are outside of their social circles.”

Yarbrough does stress the history behind each project to his students. “It helps to put a lot of things in perspective for them,” Yarbrough said. “When they can see it and feel it that helps a lot.”

This summer, Yarbrough said the Arkansas and the display case will be transported to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in Little Rock. “When some of these ships were sank I guess the politicians didn’t have enough clout to save the Arkansas,” Yarbrough said. “They have the Texas battleship there on display in La Porte, Texas, but we don’t have anything from the Arkansas here and I think this will be a nice addition not only for the museum, but also for these students to be able to go back there in the future with their kids and grandkids and say that they helped to build that.”


Information from: Paragould Daily Press, https://www.paragoulddailypress.com/

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