USS Arizona Memorial endures as powerful monument

Dallas Morning News

The battleship USS Arizona bleeds, nearly 60 years after its death in flame and thunder on Dec. 7, 1941. Drops of oil float upward from the sunken hulk, black marbles that burst into iridescent rainbows undulating on the blue-green waters of Pearl Harbor.

It's poignant evidence that the ship isn't finished -- that it won't let the world forget the men who died when Japanese planes attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor and thrust the United States into World War II.

Among a number of sights on the Hawaiian island of Oahu linked to the attack, the shattered Arizona is the most powerful and the most visited.

Tourism officials at those sites anticipate increased attention as the raid's 60th anniversary and commemorative events approach. And new interest in the battleship is predicted after the release of the "Pearl Harbor" movie.

But history doesn't need Hollywood to lend drama at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Stand in the pink blush of a Hawaiian Sunday morning. Feel the moist, mild air stir languidly around you. Listen to the quiet clatter of the palms. And remember.

Remember a similar morning decades ago when war arrived to shatter the tropical caress.

It was the day before a naval inspection. More than 130 vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were anchored in Pearl: battleships, destroyers, cruisers and others.

Some men were on duty. Some were getting ready for church. Some were finishing breakfast amid the crackle of frying bacon. Some slept.

It was just before 8 a.m. During the next two hours, death would devour nearly 2,400 in the unsuspecting ranks.

Sweeping in from ships positioned north of Oahu, 183 Japanese fighter planes, bombers and torpedo planes attacked on land and water with well-planned fury. Another wave of 167 aircraft arrived a half-hour later.

Oily, acrid, black smoke roiled as torpedoes and bombs smashed into vessels, igniting explosions and fires. Planes at Ford Island, Wheeler and Hickam airfields, parked in tight rows to prevent sabotage, were riddled with bullets. Flames fed on their remains.

The battleship Oklahoma, struck repeatedly by torpedoes, rolled over, trapping more than 400 men.

The Nevada -- the only ship to get under way during the attack -- tried to bolt the harbor but was swarmed by attackers. Ablaze and sinking, Nevada struggled toward shore to avoid blocking the channel.

The bow of the destroyer Shaw was sheared off in a fiery blast. The torpedoed Utah capsized, and the fire-swept California and West Virginia sank.

Bombs rocked the Arizona. Among them, a 1,760-pound armor-piercing shell penetrated the ship near the No. 2 turret, starting a fire that spread in seconds through a hatch the men didn't have time to close. Flames boiled into the rooms where 100 tons of gunpowder were stored.

There was a flash and a tremendous "whoom."

"The whole ship erupted like a volcano," the Arizona's damage-control officer, Lt. Cmdr. Samuel Fuqua, said later.

The explosion tore apart the Arizona's bow end. With little left to hold it upright, a mast sagged forward.

The concussion blew men off nearby vessels into the water. Sailors deafened by the sound of the blast couldn't hear screams for help. Tons of debris rained over the harbor.

And in that violent instant, more than two-thirds of the Arizona's crew died.

Twenty-two sets of brothers . . . father and son Thomas and William Free of Texas . . . all 21 members of the ship's prize-winning band . . . sailors and officers alike -- perished.

The ship sank in less than nine minutes into Pearl's shallow water but continued to burn for more than two days, its superstructure -- some of it still above the surface -- wreathed in black smoke.

By 10 a.m., the attack was over. Because the raid focused mainly on larger warships moored on Battleship Row beside Ford Island in the center of the harbor, many others escaped destruction. Still, 12 U.S. vessels were sunk or beached, and nine were damaged. The dead numbered 2,388; the wounded, 1,178. The Japanese lost 29 planes, 55 airmen and nine submariners.

The Arizona, its back broken, was never raised, and six decades later, the ship and many of its men lie where they fell. Some were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, often called Punchbowl Cemetery. Other victims were returned stateside.

People come: 1.5 million last year, about half of them veterans of the war the Arizona didn't survive. Some come out of curiosity or because it's on their Honolulu tour itinerary, but most come to pay tribute, to learn and to understand. Few leave untouched.

"When you step onto the memorial or visit Punchbowl Cemetery -- where often the only sounds are whispered words and the snapping of our flag -- you're hit with the unmistakable reality of sacrifice. It's impossible to not feel the impact," said Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet.

Pilgrimages to the memorial -- a 184-foot-long, bright-white rectangular structure that straddles the Arizona without touching it -- begin at the visitor center with a 23-minute documentary movie. Events leading to the attack are described with clarity and power through footage gleaned primarily from the National Archives. Scenes and sound, stunning in their unflinching fact, capture the destruction and pandemonium of Dec. 7.

A pensive crowd emerges from the theater and moves to the dock, where a boat waits to shuttle visitors to the memorial five minutes across the harbor.

From early in World War II, the sunken Arizona was viewed as special. It became a tradition that crews on vessels passing the battleship would stand at attention, according to Daniel Martinez, historian at the memorial, which is managed by the National Park Service.

But it wasn't until the late 1950s that a public campaign was mounted to officially memorialize the ship. Ralph Edwards kicked off fund-raising on his TV show "This Is Your Life." When collections fell short, Congress provided more money.

The resulting structure beside Ford Island was dedicated on Memorial Day 1962. It has come to honor not just the lost crew members of the Arizona, but also all American military personnel who died in the attack.

The memorial's sweeping shape -- high at each end but low at the center -- symbolizes "initial defeat and ultimate victory," its architect, Alfred Preis, said.

Not all of the ship lies below the memorial. The sagging foremast, whose sad image was captured in a now-famous photograph of the dying vessel, and other parts of the damaged superstructure were removed in 1942 and 1943, and the metal was returned to the war effort, said Martinez. More metal was cut away later to allow placement of the memorial and is stored by the Navy on nearby Waipio Peninsula.

Large, elongated windows on each side of the memorial's main room admit dazzling sunbeams and allow views of the ship below. Buoys mark the bow and stern of the 608-foot-long vessel. Gun turret No. 3's rusting circular seat protrudes from the water toward the stern. Corners of the galley's ovens are visible below the memorial's bow side. And hundreds of brilliantly colored tropical fish dart over the wreckage.

Because the harbor's murky waters obscure visibility, little was known about the vessel's condition until the early 1980s. A study begun then by the National Park Service mapped the ship's exterior in detail and discovered an intact turret and gun -- an object longer and heavier than a Trailways bus, said Daniel J. Lenihan of the park service's Submerged Cultural Resources Center in Santa Fe, N.M. Everyday items also were found in the debris: broken dishes from the ship's galley, medicine cabinets and personal gear.

In continuing research, metallurgists from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln are measuring effects of the crust formed by sponges, worms and other "biofoul" attached to the hulk. The coating offers some protection to the exterior metal, said Dr. Don Johnson, but it adds weight to sediment and other material pressing on the Arizona.

Already, decks are sagging and slumping, said Larry Murphy, director of the resources center. Monitors will be installed to report movement of even a half-inch, he added.

Concern that the corroding ship might collapse in future decades centers on the teardrops of oil that surface every 20 seconds or so. Historian Martinez said they now amount to just five ounces a day and pose no danger to the environment. But no one is certain how much of the million gallons of oil aboard at the time of the attack remains on the Arizona and whether a large amount could be released as the ship continues to deteriorate.

Diffused light streams through "Tree of Life" art windows in the shrine room at the memorial's far end. It illuminates a wall engraved with the names of all Arizona crewmen who died in the attack.

Not everyone listed is entombed aboard. Accessible remains were collected soon after the raid. And in early 1942, divers removed an additional 60 bodies, but the work was so difficult and distasteful, said Martinez, that the Navy declared the unrecovered victims "buried at sea."

Today, only 54 Arizona survivors remain. They are among the approximately 8,000 left of the 90,000 military men and women who served on Oahu during the attack, said Ray Emory, chief historian for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

Many Pearl Harbor veterans view the upcoming anniversary as one of their last, said Dan Hand, chief ranger at the memorial. And Emory confirms that their ranks are shrinking by about 50 a month.

A feeling of loss runs strong among those who read the columns of names on the wall and weep unashamedly for men most never knew.

But grief alone is not the message of the Arizona Memorial.

"We must never forget we are the beneficiaries of what this country accomplished during World War II," Adm. Fargo said. "America is strong, peaceful and prosperous because of the sacrifices of a generation of men and women willing to defend freedom."



The USS Arizona Memorial is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Interpretive programs, including the boat trip to the USS Arizona and a documentary film about the attack, begin at 8 a.m. (7:45 a.m. in summer). The memorial is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free.


USS Arizona Memorial, 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, HI 96818; 808-422-0561; Also informative: and Find a Web cam at

Oahu Visitors Bureau: 1-877-525-6248; Request the excellent Oahu map.


Visitors line up well before the memorial opens at 7:30 a.m.

To be in the first group in the theater and on the shuttle boat ride to the memorial, be at the visitor center door at 7 a.m. Programs fill quickly, and by midmorning, the wait may be nearly two hours. Fill the time by visiting the memorial's museum and bookstore, by talking with Pearl Harbor survivors on site to tell their stories or by touring the nearby Bowfin submarine and museum.


The small but informative museum has American and Japanese artifacts from 1941. A model of the sunken Arizona shows visitors what the harbor's murky waters hide.

An excellent bookstore offers print and video information about the Pearl Harbor raid and the Pacific war.

Plaques beneath a 16- by 50-foot oil painting of the Arizona in the entry area list the crewmen who lived when the ship died.


The best views of the Arizona Memorial on approach are from the shuttle boat's right side. To get a seat on or near the railing for unimpeded photos, sit in the lower left of the theater near the doors to the shuttle dock and be among the first to board.


Drop nothing but flowers onto the Arizona. Coins, lens caps, sunglasses and other items contribute to the sediment whose weight threatens the ship.


Items from the Arizona also are displayed at sites on the mainland. The latter include the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix and the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas (830-997-4379;


Recommended publications about the attack include "The Pearl Harbor Visitors Guide," a foldout brochure (O.S.B. Mapmania, $3.95); "At Dawn We Slept" by Gordon W. Prange (Penguin, $20.95); "Day of Infamy" by Walter Lord (Henry Holt, $24.95); "The Attack on Pearl Harbor, an Illustrated History" by Larry Kimmett and Margaret Regis (Navigator, $18.95); "Trapped at Pearl Harbor: Escape from the Battleship Oklahoma" by Stephen Bower Young (Naval Institute Press, $18.95); and "Descent Into Darkness" by Edward C. Raymer (Presidio, $21.95).

For first-person accounts: "Remembering Pearl Harbor" edited by Robert S. La Forte and Ronald E. Marcello (Scholarly Resources Inc., $6.99) and "We Remember Pearl Harbor" edited by Lawrence Reginald Rodriggs (Communications Concepts, $29.95).


Home of the Brave Hawaii Military Base Tours is the most experienced company offering guided tours of Pearl Harbor-related sites on Oahu. The itinerary, with insightful commentary, includes the Arizona Memorial, Army Headquarters at Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Field and Punchbowl Cemetery (drive-through). The eight-hour tour (6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) costs $69 plus tax for adults and $59 for children. The museum at Schofield Barracks is closed on Mondays. Contact: P.O. Box 25204, Honolulu, HI 96825; 808-396-8112;


There are those who say ghosts of young sailors haunt Pearl Harbor, but Joseph Brochon, night watchman at the USS Arizona Memorial, disagrees. Never has he heard "creaking or groaning" in his five years at the flash point of war.

"This is one of the most peaceful jobs," he said.

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