Vote set for Wednesday on proposed state park featuring Navy cruiser

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Veterans Jack Burklund and David Wheat are active on opposite sides in the referendum that is expected to decide Wednesday whether Duluth will get a state park with the USS Des Moines as its centerpiece.
Burklund thinks bringing a retired Navy cruiser to Duluth’s harbor would make for an inappropriate memorial to Minnesota’s World War II veterans and a waste of money that is needed elsewhere.
To Wheat, the Des Moines would float into Duluth as a display of patriotism, history, engineering know-how and educational opportunity.
It’s a local advisory referendum, but the vote it brings will conclude a campaign that has involved Gov. Arne Carlson, the Department of Natural Resources, radio talk shows, civic-club appearances and well more than $30,000 in spending.
Carlson has asked the Legislature to spend $14 million to bring the post-World War II ship to Duluth and set up the park as a memorial and tourist attraction.
Burklund, who was a Marine in the mid-1960s and is a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop the Des Moines, said his group thinks public opinion is as much as 2-1 against the project.
“Veteran after veteran has come up to me and said they don’t want a piece of hardware down in the harbor,” he said, adding that they would prefer a memorial “that speaks to the spirit in which we served and the sacrifices we made, not the death and destruction that comes from that hardware.”
Wheat, a retired Navy pilot, spent seven years as a prisoner of war after being shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. He did a TV commercial for the Veterans State Park Yes Committee, reminding people that he had a lot of time to think about the loss of freedom and how it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The Yes Committee, organized just a month ago, had raised and spent about $25,000 by Friday, about three times the amount raised by the Stop Coalition.
The yes campaign has the backing of Duluth business, tourism, downtown and labor groups, along with veterans organizations from around the state.
Burklund said the no campaign is a grass-roots operation that has identified about 6,000 voters on its side, including many veterans and elderly residents. Some of its members have been identified as peace activists and residents who have opposed other development projects.
“It’s all being done grass-roots,” he said. “We don’t have any state money behind us.”
The yes side does. The DNR set up a booth at the Miller Hill Mall to hand out literature on the proposal and other state parks.
The governor said last week that, although the referendum is advisory, the vote will decide the issue, because the Legislature will not appropriate money for the project in the face of public opposition.
The ship, now in Philadelphia, has no ostensible connection with Minnesota except, backers say, that Minnesota iron ore probably was used to build it.