By KYLE KOCHEVAR
Arizona Sonora News
UPDATE: The USS Arizona memorial on the University of Arizona mall was dedicated on Sunday, Dec. 4, as the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack arrives on Dec. 7. Story and a photo gallery at the Arizona Daily Star. Link. And a report on CBS News. Link.
A full-size-outline monument to the USS Arizona, the battleship that was the most famous casualty of the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched America into World War II, was dedicated on Sunday on the University of Arizona mall in time for the 75th anniversary of the surprise Japanese air raid on the base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
The memorial and a related exhibit do not just serve to memorialize the 1,177 American sailors who died aboard the Arizona, whose crew fought ferociously to shoot down invading warplanes as the battleship took direct hits and sank in port. They also serve as educational tools for young people who are not familiar with the soon-to-be distant past, said David Carter, the designer of the memorial.
“Fewer and fewer young people today will ever have met a veteran of World War II, or recall parents, aunts, uncles, etc. talking about exactly where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor,” Carter said.
The generation of men and women who served in World War II is fading away, with the very youngest still-living World War II veterans now in their late 80s, and most of the survivors in their 90s. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, over sixteen million Americans served in World War II, and in the next ten years it is estimated only 76,000 of them will still be alive.
The University of Arizona built the memorial on the campus mall adjacent to the Student Union Memorial Center. The memorial consists of two sets of waist-high brick walls within the larger outline on the ground of the Arizona, which was 606 feet long and 97 feet at widest, called the beam.
“I realized that it’s difficult to grasp the scale of the Arizona from just seeing the model or the photos in the museum,” Carter explained. “That’s when it dawned on me that it would be nice if the ship could be outlined full-scale nearby on the Mall.”
The original plan was to have three-inch brass survey markers inscribed across the lawn, sidewalks and street in front of Old Main. This was abandoned when it was realized it would be too difficult to maintain.
Now the 1,177 bronze medallions are centrally located at the memorial where brick walls are located at the stern of the outline, right outside of the Student Union. The medallions will bear the names of all the men who died aboard the USS Arizona during the attack by waves of Japanese bombers.
“Over 90 percent of the medallions for each of the 1,177 men will show his full name,” Carter said. “Over 500 will include not just their rank, but [also] the distinctive Navy ratings.”
The memorial is meant to honor the men who died, but also to acknowledge that many of the dead were the same age as the students who will walk by the memorial every day.
“Over 60 percent were 22 or younger,” Carter said. “Six of the men were still 16 when they died.”
[A documentary on PBS showing underwater-camera exploration of the wreck of the USS Arizona began airing just before Thanksgiving]
The USS Arizona memorial is on the Mall in front of the student union. There have been some concerns expressed that it might block the way for pedestrians.
“I haven’t really thought too much about it,” said Juan Carlos Bautista, a junior studying biochemistry, when asked about the memorial. “Except that it looks like it is blocking off the Mall.”
However, Carter disputes that. It only appears this way because it is under construction, and that accommodation for pedestrians has been included in the design, Carter said.
“There are ample openings in the middle of the west walls and in the middle of the east walls for the free flow of people east and west,” Carter said. “The two pairs of walls are 15 feet apart to the north and south, so pedestrian flow isn’t being impeded in that direction either.”
As the Japanese launched the attack, the battleships USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS Tennessee and four other ships were anchored at Pearl Harbor. The men of the Arizona were called to battle stations, but there was not enough time to prepare for what was coming at them wave after wave from the sea.
Five minutes after the battle stations alarm sounded on the Arizona, 10 Japanese bombers attacked the battleship and scored four direct hits with four 1,700-pound bombs. The final bomb penetrated the armored deck and hit the forward magazine. This set off a secondary explosion that resulted in the ship sinking.
Almost half of all the men killed at Pearl Harbor died aboard the Arizona. In all, 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians were killed in the attack on the naval base and on the nearby Army airfield, Hickam Field.
The construction of the memorial coincides with an exhibit that is currently on display at the University of Arizona Library Special Collections. The exhibit is also about the Arizona, and seeks to educate people about what happened aboard the ship 75 years ago. The exhibit displays various artifacts that the university has collected over the years. It is on display all semester.
Many of the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor were raised from the sea and restored. The USS Arizona was not one of those ships and still lies where she was sunk at Pearl Harbor, covered by a memorial structure.
“The USS Arizona exhibit has evolved over the years,” said Charles Wommack, an information associate with the university’s library. “A lot of the artifacts have been donated by World War II veterans over the years.”
The artifacts have mostly been donated from people who survived aboard the Arizona, family members of the men who died, and other World War II veterans. One such artifact, the bell that hangs above the Student Union, was one of two bells that were on the Arizona during the attack.
“The bell in the clock tower was actually going to be melted down, but somebody saved it,” Wommack said.
That bell that hangs above the student union was going to be melted down at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. A graduate of the University of Arizona named Bill Bowers saved the bell and then helped the university acquire it after World War II, according to the University of Arizona website. The other bell is at the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii.
Two survivors of the Arizona came to the university last year to ring the bell the Sunday before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. There are now only five remaining survivors from the Arizona, and it is hoped that at least three of them can come attend a formal dedication of the memorial in early 2017, along with many of the family members of men lost aboard the ship.
The memorial aims to keep people in touch with history, and a smart phone app is also being planned as way for visitors to interact with the memorial. This will allow people to hold their phone cameras in front of a medallion to bring up a photo of that soldier. It is planned for early 2017.
“This is called bringing history alive,” Carter said.
Download high resolution images here.
Kyle Kochevar is studying history and journalism and would like to be a journalist after college. He likes to read, write and hang out with friends in his free time.