Memorial to the Greatest Generation

The veterans of the Second World War are part of the Greatest Generation – and there is no greater Memorial to them than the one which honors the memory of USS Arizona (BB-39) and the gallantry of her crew.

A visit to this Memorial has been on my bucket list for close to 60 years – and I finally got there on April 20, 2015.

The Arizona Memorial is part of the Pearl – Hickam military complex which is still actively used by the U.S. Navy and Air Force. In addition to the Valor in The Pacific Museum there are some historic ships moored there, including the Battleship Missouri and USS Bowfin, a veteran of 9 war patrols in WWII. Of course the absolute highlight is the remains of the USS Arizona.

To visit the actual Memorial you have to get a reserved ticket. After watching a film on the Pearl Harbor attack, you board one of these boats. They are operated by US Navy sailors and bear the same number as the Arizona itself. Cassin Young won the Medal of Honor at Pearl Harbor, by steering his ship USS Vestal away from the stricken USS Arizona. Captain Young was later killed in action at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.

You can see the USS Missouri in the background. The US Pacific war began with the Pearl Harbor attack and ended aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay nearly 4 bloody years later.

As we approached the Memorial we saw the mooring dock where the Arizona was anchored on December 7, 1941.

Now we were ready to disembark and enter the Memorial.

It’s a serene place today considering the hell it must have been 74 years ago. Here is the list of fatalities plus a few surviving shipmates who died decades later, and whose ashes were returned to be buried on the wreck. There were 1174 lives who vanished in a moment, including those of Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenberg.

Part of the damaged section under the memorial. This is about where the bomb landed that blew the ship to pieces.

There were plans for the Arizona to sail back to the Mainland in December 1941, and she received 1.2 million gallons of fuel just before the attack. A lot of the oil burned in the fire that raged for days afterward, but there is still some oil trapped in the Arizona’s hull and small quantities escape and color the water to this very day. It’s not an environmental hazard since the quantity is small at this point and biodegradable. Just a poignant reminder that we are visiting a war grave.

The base of one of the main gun turrets that protrudes above the water. Most of the Arizona’s big guns were salvaged, but the furthest forward turret was so badly damaged that the guns there remain in the turret beneath the surface.

Wreckage near the bow of the ship. Most of the forward portion was destroyed and sunk, but a few sections remain above water. The Arizona was never in any naval salvage plans and was just left as a tomb for her sailors and marines. Most of the other battleships that were sunk or damaged in the attack were raised and repaired, and took part in the war later on. Many people think that the Arizona is still in commission since the American flag flies prominently at her wreck. However she was taken off the Navy List about a year after the attack. The Arizona’s ship’s bell was salvaged and I have seen it at the State Capitol building in Phoenix, AZ. The Memorial structure itself was opened in 1962.

And here is one of the USS Arizona’s massive anchors that was also recovered from the wreck.

All in all the visit we made to the Arizona Memorial more than met my lifelong expectations. It was a stirring highlight of our visit to Honolulu and it is not to be missed.



Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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