Restoration underway at USS Biloxi site

City contractors today began a 120-day, $187,000 project that will see the restoration of Guice Park, the site of the USS Biloxi mast and other war-related markers on U.S. 90 at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.

Chuck Collins of J.O. Collins Contracting – the Biloxi firm that has restored the Biloxi Lighthouse and White House fountain and is wrapping up restoration of Biloxi City Hall – said the park project will involve erecting a huge tarp over the 35- to 40-foot tall USS Biloxi mast to allow workers to remove paint.

“We’ll also be replacing the flagpoles and cleaning the markers at the adjacent Purple Heart memorial, doing some minor concrete work, replacing the lighting at the site,” Collins said.

The work, which is being funded by FEMA, is expected to be completed by Oct. 5, 2010.

The USS Biloxi: A distinguished record of service

The USS Biloxi was a light cruiser that distinguished itself in World War II.

The 608-foot, 10,000-ton vessel, known by her 1,200 officers and crew as “The Busy Bee,” earned nine battle stars during her service from January 1944 to May 1945. It was during that period that the Biloxi completed one of the longest continuous tours of combat duty by any U.S. warship, never missing a major operation in the Pacific.

Operating in support of carriers making air strikes against the very heart of the enemy homeland, Tokyo itself, the Biloxi saw action in battles at Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Formosa, Leyte Gulf, Saipan, the Philippines, and was one of the first ships to evacuate allied prisoners of war from Nagasaki, Japan shortly after the atomic bomb was dropped.

On March 27, 1945, during the assault on Okinawa, the Biloxi was attacked by four Japanese kamikaze planes. Three were shot down, but a fourth, riddled with bullets, crashed into the Biloxi, and a 1,100-pound bomb was later found unexploded below the ship’s hangar deck.

The ship was decommissioned on Oct. 29, 1946, and broken up for scrap. The ship’s superstructure, however, was saved and erected in Guice Park near the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.

Online resources: Photos and history

—To see a compilation of World War II press releases about the wartime exploits and achievements of the Biloxi, click here.

—The Purple Heart markers have been uprighted since the storm, but to see before-and-after photographs of the USS Biloxi superstructure at the small craft harbor, as shown on a page from “Katrina & Biloxi,” click here.