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May 27, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Frank Luke, Balloon Buster

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  • Phoenix native Frank Luke was the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor. He was a World War One ace who got his nickname, the “Balloon Buster,” for the numerous German observation balloons he shot down. We take a look at the life of Luke.
Category: Military   |   Keywords: arizona, veteran, phoenix, memorial,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: We wrap up our Memorial Day special with a look at an Arizona World War I ace. Frank Luke, Jr., was the first to receive the medal of honor. He was nicknamed the "The Balloon Buster" for the many German weather balloons he shot down.

Paul Atkinson: Few 21-year-olds have statues erected in their honor. Fewer still are the number of young men who accomplish what Frank Luke, Jr., did. He was America's top ace at the time of his death, having shot down at least enemy airplanes and balloons in World War I.

Bill Luke Jr.: He was given a job and he did it. He was a daredevil, he was.

Paul Atkinson: Bill Luke, Jr., learned plenty about him from family members.

Bill Luke Jr.: When he was in high school he had the brainy idea that he'd like to use an umbrella and jump off the auditorium of Phoenix high school. His principal said, why don't we try this first with a dummy. He did that and found there was a lot of damage. He decided that wasn't a good idea.

Paul Atkinson: Before Luke joined the army in 1917, he worked the mines in Ajo.

Bill Luke Jr.: There was a prize fighter that came through the mining camp. He decided he'd challenge the guy and he won.

Paul Atkinson: Luke reported to the front a couple of months later.

Bill Luke Jr.: When Lieutenant Luke was first checked out in combat, he said if he lasts two weeks, you'll be assured of being able to survive. And two to three weeks was considered the normal life expectancy for pilots who flew these aircraft.

All of these aircrafts are fabric covered, bedsheets, safe as you sleep open every night.

Paul Atkinson: The museum has a replica of Luke's airplane, a French-built craft. Luke preferred to go after the most dangerous of all targets, observation balloons.

Mel Derry: It wasn't uncommon if you went and tried to shoot it down, you'd end up being shot down yourself from the people on the ground. That was the reason most people avoided it.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker: He was the most daring aviator, the greatest fighting pilot. He went on an eight-day rampage and shot down 14 enemy aircraft including balloons.

Paul Atkinson: The Arizonan began to go it alone and was grounded by his commander.

Mel Derry: On the way back he shot a balloon down, and the base commander said, put yourself under house arrest, you're going to be court-martialed. He left the note and said watch the three bags on the river.

Paul Atkinson: He found more than a half dozen German fighting planes waiting. He went on to shoot down all three enemy balloons. He would not return to base to face the consequences of orders.

Mel Derry: Luke saw the soldiers, went down and strafed them. He killed maybe six of them and that's where the Germans approached the airplane expecting to capture him and he wasn't there.

Paul Atkinson: Historians believe Luke got out of his airplane, but died from his wounds before Germans could kill him. Luke's death made the news back home.

Bill Luke Jr.: An extraordinary boy met an extraordinary challenge and did the best he could.

Paul Atkinson: An Air Force Base is named in Luke's honor.

Bill Luke Jr.: Men and women have served and many lost their lives. Frank lost his life, he was a symbol. They were symbols. They were heros. And they are my heros.

Paul Atkinson: Luke is buried in a military cemetery in France. His simple cross does not boast of his accomplishments. Those speak for themselves.

National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona

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  • Since 1979, the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix has been the last resting place for veterans and their families. It was started as a state cemetery, and was transferred to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs in 1989. It is expected to reach capacity after 2030. Jerry Rainey, the director of the cemetery, and administrative officer Deborah Ryan will tell us more about the facility.
  • Jerry Rainey - Director, National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona
  • Deborah Ryan - Administrative Officer, National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona
Category: Military   |   Keywords: memorial, cemetery, arizona, veterans, phoenix,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Next we tell you about the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, the last resting place for veterans and their families since . Jerry Rainey, the director of the cemetery is here to tell us more about the cemetery. Also joining us is the administrative officer Deborah Ryan. Thank you so much for joining us, where is this national cemetery?

Jerry Rainey: We're located about two miles North of the 101, just off of Cave Creek Road. You turn right on Pinnacle Peak, that's where our main entrance is at.

Ted Simons: How big of a facility is this?

Jerry Rainey: Right now we have got 220 acres, and 118 acres that's developed.

Ted Simons: So you still have quite a bit undeveloped.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct.

Ted Simons: As far as burials there now, I read 66,000. But how many ceremonies, burials do you do a year?

Deborah Ryan: A little over 3,000.

Ted Simons: My goodness, that's a lot. Things have to be kept moving there, don't they?

Deborah Ryan: We try to keep them moving right along.

Ted Simons: Give us a description of a ceremony, how long, what would be involved with a ceremony?

Deborah Ryan: Ceremonies are scheduled for 30 minutes. At the beginning of the service is military honors. That takes roughly 10 minutes or so. At that point the families or the funeral homes have made arrangements for clergy to come forward and do a short committal service for the family. Generally about 30 minutes the services last.

Ted Simons: And who is eligible now for this cemetery?

Jerry Rainey: Any veteran and their spouse, and of course children under 18 years old who have an other than dishonorable discharge.

Ted Simons: As far as the assignment of gravesites, how does that work?

Jerry Rainey: We take each grave, one after another, and that's due to equipment. We can work the next available gravesite. We do not reserve any of them unless it's of course connected with the Cory Shea act, where a veteran is killed in active duty, and then if he has no other dependents, according to the Cory Shea act, then their father or mother are allowed to be interred with that soldier.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Describe the appearance of this national cemetery.

Deborah Ryan: It's really nice. It's a desert landscaping, and we're surround by mountains all the way around. It's very peaceful. And it's really a lovely cemetery.

Ted Simons: Is it desert landscaping -- obviously certain parts of the country would be considered but that is relatively unusual?

Deborah Ryan: Moss of our cemeteries are the turf, the grass.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Deborah Ryan: So a lot of times families come in and see the ground and they are like, I don't know about this. But it's really lovely once you've seen it, it makes sense for Arizona.

Ted Simons: Do we see gravestones there? Do we see something else?

Jerry Rainey: We do have flat bronze markers. We call it waterwise landscaping. We are on the drip irrigation system for some of the plants. It is a desert landscape and it's very beautiful. We'd like to have people come out and take a look at it. It's a gorgeous cemetery.

Ted Simons: No upright headstones, correct?

Jerry Rainey: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Jerry Rainey: Essentially just something they have chosen to do here. A lot of national cemeteries, they have the marble upright headstones or the flat headstones. They chose to do the flat bronze markers. We have a columbarian wall with niches that hold cremations.

Ted Simons: As far as cremation placement, that's how that would work, in the wall there?

Deborah Ryan: With cremation you have a choice, in-ground burial or above-ground burial.

Ted Simons: Any special features, in terms of electronics?

Deborah Ryan: Well, we have a carillon that does Winchester on the hour and plays military songs throughout the day on the hour.

Ted Simons: Anything else special there?

Jerry Rainey: We've got a memorial walkway, we've got what we've called Founders Plaza. You could probably tell a little more about Founders Plaza.

Deborah Ryan: Well the memorial walkway is part of founders plaza, and has monuments that have been donated by different veterans organizations in memory of female veterans or C.B.s, it's very nice to see them.

Jerry Rainey: We've got the eternal flame going 24/7 there, the founders plaza. It's a very beautiful place.

Ted Simons: There's a computer kiosk that helps to locate gravesites.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct. We've got a public information area and to the rear of the public information there's a kiosk and essentially all a visitor has to do is go and type in their loved one's name, and it'll actually do a location and print outer a map of the different sections in the cemetery. The other thing I'd like to mention is the national cemetery administration also has an app for your cell phone that you can literally look up your loved ones at any one of our national cemeteries.

Ted Simons: This applies to all the national cemeteries.

Jerry Rainey: That's correct, it is.

Ted Simons: The history of the cemetery, again, I understand it was run by the State for a while and then the Feds. Talk about that.

Deborah Ryan: The first burials were in 1979. Then in 1988 federal government took over with the stipulation that it remained desert landscaping our waterwise. Then in 1994 we had a $13 million renovation for improvements in the cemetery.

Ted Simons: Again, $ million, what's involved with that?

Deborah Ryan: They built a visitors center, a large glass building. We expanded on the roads. We built some more committal service shelters to help for the families. And also water retention areas so the heavy rain is not an issue anymore. Everything's taken care of, it goes smoothly.

Ted Simons: Hopefully, yes. As far as development is concerned, surrounding homes, how close are they?

Deborah Ryan: We're sort of still out in the middle of nowhere.

Jerry Rainey: That's the idea.

Deborah Ryan: There's nothing to the North of us, just a sort of area that's a mobile home park and some houses. We're still kind of not populated there.

Ted Simons: You mentioned how much developed land there was and how much is still undeveloped as far as the cemetery is concerned. Any threat of reaching capacity?

Jerry Rainey: Well, we're actually within the next couple years going to expand with more columbarium walls. We've got a lot of undeveloped land. At this point we are not concerned with running out of space. And of course there are plenty of barriers around the cemetery.

Ted Simons: Is this the only National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Arizona?

Deborah Ryan: We manage the cemetery in Prescott, as well, located across the highway from the V.A. Medical Center up in Prescott.

Ted Simons: That is bigger? Smaller? How does that compare?

Deborah Ryan: It's six acres, and there are, well, 3,000 in-ground burials. We built a columbarium wall for cremation placement in the wall.

Ted Simons: What kind of information do you want to get out about this cemetery?

Jerry Rainey: That we're there, and we are a service to the veterans. It's free. It costs nothing to the family. And it's a benefit that they deserve. And of course we're here to take care of the veteran.

Ted Simons: What should people know about this cemetery?

Deborah Ryan: It's really beautiful, come out and take a walk and spend some time there, it's very peaceful, very nice.

Ted Simons: Thank you both for joining us on this special edition of "Arizona Horizon." Good to have you.

Jerry Rainey: Thank you.

WWII Memorial

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  • Construction is under way near the state capitol for a memorial to fallen World War Two soldiers. It will feature the names of the fallen soldiers written on a plaque that will be placed between the guns from the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri. Secretary of State Ken Bennett has spear-headed the drive for the memorial, and will tell us more.
  • Ken Bennett - Secretary of State, Arizona
Category: Military   |   Keywords: soliders, memorial, arizona, capitol,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to this "Arizona Horizon" Memorial Day special, I'm Ted Simons. Work is underway near the state capitol for a memorial to fallen World War II soldiers. The memorial will feature the names of the soldiers displayed on a plaque, situated between guns from the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Missouri. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has been a major force in the push for the memorial. He joins us now. Where exactly is this being built?

Ken Bennett: Kind of at the east end of what's known as Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. Several acres of grass and trees just east of the copper dome capitol. And right between Jefferson and Washington Street, about 15th Avenue.

Ted Simons: And what kind of completion date are we looking at?

Ken Bennett: We're shooting for, going to be ready for December 7th of this year, after the traditional Pearl Harbor Day ceremony at a.m., corresponding with the Hawaii time of the attack. After that is finished we will within a few minutes thereafter begin the dedication ceremony of this new World War II memorial.

Ted Simons: Any plans on what the ceremony will be?

Ken Bennett: We hope to have fly-overs of maybe some planes from that era, and/or maybe even the current era of planes. Lots of veterans of course attending, including some Pearl Harbor survivors. And then the dedication of the two guns and the large plaque. It's actually nine large pillars in between the two guns that won't just hold a plaque, it'll hold 2,000 plaques, each Arizonan that died in World War II from all branches of the military will have a two-inch by 12-inch nameplate in stainless steel etched out with their name on it. It'll be almost like a mini Vietnam memorial.

Ted Simons: How is that design going to look? Give us a better definition of the design.

Ken Bennett: Between the two gun barrels, one from the Arizona and one from the Missouri, will be nine metal pillars, steel structures, steel beams that kind of come out of the ground and bow out at the top. It'll kind of look like the hull of a ship coming out of the ground. On the sides of those nine pillars -- and the nine represents the nine minutes it took the Arizona, the battleship to go down. On the sides of those nine steel pillars will be these individual name plaques, around 2,000 Arizonans who lost their lives in active duty during World War II. They will each have a nameplate hanging on. They will hang so that when the wind blows they will move and you'll get the feeling of maybe a wave or motion. It'll be very powerful.

Ted Simons: Sound with those?

Ken Bennett: Well, I don't know. I doubt that any sound will be created. But you'll get a visual of movement.

Ted Simons: The U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Missouri, I want to talk about how you procured the guns here, next. The fact that those two battleships are involved, talk about why that's important.

Ken Bennett: When we tried to get the last remaining gun barrel from the Arizona battleship the Navy rejected me; it's the last one, we're not sure we want to give it to you. Would you like one from the Missouri, we have seven of those left. The idea occurred to me to ask for both of them and represent that we would restore them both, and they could be the book-ends of the war, one representing the beginning of World War II in the Pacific and the other the end. It was cute, you're thinking big now, I like big thinking. I think I can get behind that idea. Sure enough, they did, and we have both barrels and they have been restored. We're working on getting the foundations built so they can be put on the foundations. Then the names of the individuals between.

Ted Simons: It really is amazing. The U.S.S. Arizona, where things started, and the U.S.S. Missouri, where the treaty was signed and things ended. How big are they?

Ken Bennett: The Arizona barrel is feet long, shoots a -inch Shell over miles. The Arizona barrel itself weighs about 70 tons.

Ted Simons: My goodness.

The Missouri barrel is 14 feet longer, 68 total feet in length, shoots a 16-inch Shell and weighs 140 tons. Almost a quarter of a million tons between the two barrels.

Ted Simons: And where were they?

Ken Bennett: They were both in naval storage yards in northern Virginia. One was at place called Dahlgren Naval Storage Facility, another at St. Julien's Creek. The Arizona barrel had been removed from the ship just prior to the attack at Pearl. Else we would not have it, all of the barrels either went down or had been cut up or melted down years ago. This one had been removed, was back east being relined. There's an inner liner you have to change after shooting so many Shells through it. It was later used on the U.S.S. Nevada, actually used at D-Day. It was later removed from the Nevada and it's been in storage for 50-plus years.

Ted Simons: As far as refurbishing, how much was needed.

Ken Bennett: A lot of it. They sat in the rain and sun for five or more decades, lots of rust. Everyone from Eagle Scouts in the community to the Arizona Air National Guard have participated in scraping and then eventually Sandblasting and repainting and it's been amazing.

Ted Simons: Who designed this particular memorial?

Ken Bennett: Well, DLR Architectural Group in Scottsdale heard about the project, and was an early volunteer business. We're not using any tax dollars. Whenever businesses expressed an interest, and DLR was one of the first, they said we'll help you design. At the time we were simply working on how to display the two gun barrels. They came up with the idea of between the gun barrels building these nine pillars and putting the names of the Arizonans who died when the war.

Ted Simons: Did they have a chance to look this over and say, I like this, I don't like that?

Ken Bennett: It eventually went to the capitol mall commission and the public had some opportunity to weigh in. Most of the design has occurred between our office and DLR and other military groups working on it for the past couple of years.

Ted Simons: Any opposition to any aspect of this project?

Ken Bennett: You know, originally there was some concern that the gun barrels on display would maybe represent more of the violence of the war than we wanted to early. And it was then that we took the idea as most memorials do, that display gun barrels at this size. The open end of the barrel will have a closing with a copper star on the end of the barrel. And that kind of turns a barrel into what was a symbol of war into now a symbol of peace. It'll never be fired again in a war situation. We think that overcame most of that little concern about whether the barrels represented too much of the violence of the war. But it's almost impossible to memorialize World War II without acknowledging the violence. And they know the fact that 405,000 Americans were killed.

Ted Simons: And again, you're confident by December 7th of this year, this is going to be toward go?

Ken Bennett: We are. ASU has been working hard on the construction drawings as the contractor firm in Tempe has been doing all of that. B&SF Railroad brought us the gun barrels back to Arizona for free. Many other companies, we're not using a dime of tax dollar. Everything is private contributions in cash or private contributions by companies providing in-kind services.

Ted Simons: Sounds like quite a project. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ken Bennett: My pleasure, thank you.