And so President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation given
before Congress on December 8, 1941 began, "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which
will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked
by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
His closing remarks, "I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire." began our long four-year participation in the global war known as World War II.
I have seen many movies and filmstrips of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I cannot image what it was like to go from such a restful Sunday morning to a war torn environment in only minutes. Maybe that is why every visit I make to the Pearl Harbor Historic District and the USS Arizona Memorial is so powerful.
The USS Arizona Memorial, located at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on USS Arizona during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and commemorates the events of that day. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the island of Oahu was the action that led to the United States' direct involvement in World War II.
The memorial, formally dedicated on 30 May 1962 (Memorial Day) by Texas Congressman and Chairman of Veteran Affairs Olin E. Teague and Hawaii Governor John A. Burns, is visited by more than two million people annually. Accessible only by boat, it straddles the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it. Historical information about the attack, shuttle boats to and from the memorial, and general visitor services are available at the associated USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, which opened in 1980 and is operated by the National Park Service. The sunken remains of the battleship were declared a National Historic Landmark on 5 May 1989.
During and following the end of World War II, the Arizona's wrecked superstructure was removed and efforts began to erect a memorial at the remaining submerged hull. The Pacific War Memorial Commission was created, in 1949, to build a permanent memorial somewhere in Hawaii. Admiral Arthur W. Radford, commander of the Pacific Fleet attached a flag pole to the main mast of the Arizona in 1950 and began a tradition of hoisting and lowering the flag. In that same year a temporary memorial was built above the remaining portion of the deckhouse. Radford requested funds for a national memorial in 1951 and 1952 but was denied because of budget constraints during the Korean War.
The Navy placed the first permanent memorial, a ten-foot-tall basalt stone and plaque, over the mid-ship deckhouse on December 7, 1955. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the creation of a National Memorial in 1958. Enabling legislation required that the memorial budgeted at $500,000 be privately financed; however, $200,000 of the memorial cost was actually government subsidized.
Principal contributions to the memorial included:
- $50,000 Territory of Hawaii initial contribution in 1958
- $95,000 privately raised following a 1958 This Is Your Life television
segment featuring Rear Admiral (ret.) Samuel G. Fuqua, Medal
of Honor recipient and the senior surviving officer from USS Arizona
- $64,000 from 25 March 1961 benefit concert by Elvis Presley
- $40,000 from the sale of plastic models of the Arizona in a partnership
between the Fleet Reserve Association and Revell Model Company
- $150,000 from federal funds in legislation initiated by Hawaii Senator
Daniel Inouye in 1961
During planning stages, the ultimate purpose of the memorial was the subject of competing visions. Some were eager to keep it a tribute to the sailors of the Arizona, while others anticipated a dedication to all the war dead of the Pacific theater. In the end, the legislation authorizing and funding the memorial (HR 44, 1961) declared that the Arizona would "be maintained in honor and commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941."
The national memorial was designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis who had been detained at Sand Island at the start of the war as an enemy of the country because of his Austrian birth. The United States Navy specified that the memorial be in the form of a bridge floating above the ship and accommodating 200 people.
The 184-foot-long structure has two peaks at each end connected by a sag in the center of the structure. It represents the height of American pride before the war, the sudden depression of a nation after the attack and the rise of American power to new heights after the war. Critics initially called the design a "squashed milk carton".
The architecture of the USS Arizona Memorial is explained by Preis as, "Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory ... The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses ... his innermost feelings."
There are three main parts to the national memorial: entry, assembly room, and shrine. The central assembly room features seven large open windows on walls and ceiling, to commemorate the date of the attack. The total number of windows is 21. Rumor says this symbolically represents a 21-gun salute or 21 Marines standing at eternal parade rest over the tomb of the fallen, but guides at the site will confirm that this was not the intention of the architect. The memorial also contains an opening in the floor overlooking the sunken decks. It is from this opening that visitors come to pay their respects by tossing flowers in honor of the fallen sailors. In the past, leis were tossed in the water, but because string from leis poses a hazard to sea life, leis now are placed on guardrails located in front of the names of the fallen.
One of the three 19,585-pound anchors of the Arizona is displayed at the entrance of the visitor center. (One of the other two is at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix.) One of the two ship's bells is in the visitor center. (Its twin is in the clock tower of the Student Memorial Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.)
The shrine at the far end is a marble wall that bears the names of all those killed on the Arizona, protected behind velvet ropes. Its plaque reads, "To the Memory of the Gallant Men Here Entombed and their shipmates who gave their lives in action on 7 December 1941, on the U.S.S. Arizona."
To the left of the main wall is a small plaque which bears the names of thirty or so crew members who survived the 1941 sinking. Any surviving crew members of the Arizona (or their families on their behalf) can elect to have their ashes interred within the wreck, by U.S. Navy divers.
Oil leaking from the sunken battleship can still be seen rising from the wreckage to the surface of the water. This oil is sometimes referred to as "the tears of the Arizona" or "black tears." Looking at the oil seeping to the ocean surface had a sobering effect on me. Just think, this oil (and the bodies of the USS Arizona sailors) has been down at the bottom of the harbor for more than 70 years.
In a National Geographic feature published in 2001, concerns were expressed that the continued deterioration of the Arizona's bulkheads and oil tanks from saltwater corrosion could pose a significant environmental threat from a rupture, resulting in a significant release of oil. The National Park Service states that it has an ongoing program closely monitoring the condition of the submerged vessel.
The Park Service, as part of its Centennial Initiative celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, is developing a "mobile park" to tour the continental United States to increase exposure of the park. The mobile park will also collect oral histories of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Visitor Center operated by the National Park Service is free to the public and has a museum with exhibits about the Pearl Harbor attack, such as the ship's bell from the Arizona. The Pacific Historic Parks Bookstore revenue helps support the museum.
The only access to the USS Arizona Memorial is by a U.S. Navy boat, launched from the Visitor Center. The memorial is visited by more than one million people annually. Because of the large number of visitors and the limited number of boat departures, the 4,500 tickets available each day are often fully allocated by mid-morning. Before boarding the boat for the short trip to the Memorial, a 23-minute documentary film depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor is presented. Touring of the Memorial is self-guided. The National Park Service Web site provides visitor information, including hours of operation and ticketing advisories.
A one-hour audio tour of the Memorial and Center exhibits, narrated by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, whose father is a World War II and Navy veteran, is available for rent at the Visitor Center. On the Center's grounds along the shoreline are more exhibits and a "Remembrance Circle". Nearby is USS Bowfin, a World War II Diesel submarine, which may be toured with separate, paid admission. The battleship USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor may also be visited, but require a bus ride to Ford Island.
Every President of the United States since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and both Emperors Hirohito and Akihito, have visited the site.