USS Maine Honored at 100 Year Mark 
By Richard Pyle
Associated Press Writer
Monday, February 16, 1998; 3:01 a.m. EST 

NEW YORK (AP) -- A century after the United States established itself as a global power with a battleship that blew up in a Cuban harbor and started a war, the message is still the same: ``Don't fool with us.'' 

That's the view of Jerry Roberts, senior curator of the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, which opened an exhibit Sunday marking the anniversary of the sinking of the USS Maine. 

Two bronze ``In Memoriam'' plaques cast from the Maine's sunken wreck are on display, as well as a one-ton wooden figurehead from the hull of the USS New York, a cruiser that saw action in the three-month Spanish-American War in 1898. 

The American sailors who died on the battleship also were remembered in ceremonies Sunday in Havana and Key West, Fla., where the ship had been docked for about two months before the sinking. The ship, which blew up Feb. 15, 1898, to trigger the war, was sent to Cuba in support of Cuban rebels who were fighting their Spanish colonists. 

At Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Navy Secretary John H. Dalton led a ceremony beneath the towering mast of the Maine that serves as the centerpiece of a memorial. The names of the casualties are etched in stone, and the graves of 228 crewmen from the ship are nearby. 

``We are gathered at a location which few Americans even know exists,'' said retired Rear Adm., Morton E. Toole. ``But in its day, this was as sacred as the Vietnam Memorial wall is today.'' 

Visitors to the naval museum in New York were asked to ``Remember the Maine'' -- and the United States' debut as a major power. Roberts noted the ceremony was held as two American aircraft carriers sat in the Persian Gulf waiting to strike Iraq. 

``We've come full circle in 100 years,'' said Roberts, whose museum is housed in a retired World War II aircraft carrier on the Hudson River waterfront. ``That also was a tiny war of global proportions.'' 

Intrepid president and CEO Donald Gardner opened the exhibit by smashing a bottle across a 20-foot wooden replica of the New York's bow, mounted with the old figurehead. 

Among those watching, along with tourists and Intrepid staffers, was Mark Enis, 34, the master cabinet maker who carved the replica hull in three weeks and installed the figurehead on it. 

``I consider it a national treasure,'' he said. 

The actual cause of the Maine's destruction, which killed 267 officers and sailors, remains a matter of dispute. An underwater bomb, a boiler explosion and spontaneous combustion in a coal bunker are all possibilities. 

But the slogan ``Remember the Maine'' and inflammatory news reports blaming the ``perfidious Spanish'' fanned sentiment for the ``splendid little war'' that changed America's role in the world. 

The three-month clash cost Spain its empire -- Cuba, though nominally independent, became a virtual American satellite, and the Philippines and Puerto Rico became the United States' first foreign possessions. 

``All Americans know of it today is `Remember the Maine' and Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders,'' Roberts said. ``It was a real war, in which men died. It's a forgotten war, but a pivotal war for us -- it came right at the balance of our history and set us up at the dawn of the 20th century as a power to be reckoned with, a growing superpower.''