Friday, December 4, 2015

The USS Arizona Memorial

As  December 7th rolls around each year, I am reminded of my visits to the USS Arizona Memorial. Although I was not yet born in 1941 and have no personal acquaintance with anyone who was there that day, it is still a very moving experience.

Photo Credit: USS Arizona Memorial (aerial view) by DoD photo by: PH3(AW/SW) JAYME PASTORIC, USN,  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons
The Navy had some very specific requirements for the memorial.  It was not allowed to actually touch the Arizona, it was required to be able to handle 200 people at a time and look like a bridge.   Although that may sound like a daunting task, there were several designs submitted. The one chosen was the work of Honolulu architect, Alfred Preis.


USS Arizona Memorial

Preis explained the shape with the lower height in the middle as being symbolic of the attack on Pearl Harbor as a low point in US history with higher points at the ends before and after.  The design was not without critics. Some described it as looking like a "squashed milk carton".  I must confess, I find the exterior of the memorial rather ugly, but I have never really appreciated the architectural style of the 50s and 60s.

The construction of the memorial was completed in 1961 and it was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1962.  The USS Arizona Memorial and Visitor Center are components of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument which is managed by the National Park Service.  Tours are free.  Several thousand tickets are available each morning starting at 7:30 am at the visitor center on a first come, first served basis. Since there are up to 2 million visitors per year, tickets can go quickly. Tours start every 15 minutes and tickets are stamped with a specific tour time. There is also an online ticket reservation system in place for a limited number of tickets that can be purchased up to a day before the scheduled tour. The reservation system charges a small service fee (currently $1.50) for processing.   To enhance the experience, headsets with a recorded narration can be rented and reserved.

I am typically an early bird, so I have always just arrived early in the morning and have never had a problem getting a ticket but the reservation system is a nice option if you aren't an early riser or have a tight schedule and want to make sure you won't be disappointed.  There are some interpretive displays in the visitor center, but it was crowded and our tour was scheduled to begin so I didn't take any photos.  The tour begins in the visitor center theater with a 20 minute film about the Pearl Harbor attack.

Navy boat ferrying visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial
After watching the film, we were directed to the dock where US Navy boats ferry visitors to and from the memorial.  The boat ride takes about 15 minutes which allows time for some contemplation that I think would be missed if the memorial were attached to the land by a bridge.

Entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial
The boat docks at the memorial and a walkway leads to the entrance with time allotted for a 20 minute visit.  The memorial is divided into three parts, the Entry Room, the Assembly Room and the Shrine Room.   Once inside, I appreciated the simplicity of the memorial design better. The entry room features the flags from US States.  Although technically only a memorial to those who lost their lives on the Arizona, it has become a symbol to honor all who lost their lives as a result of the attack that day.

USS Arizona Gun Turret #3
The Assembly room is an open air structure with openings where the remains of the ship can be viewed and the design also permits people to throw flowers into the water to honor the 1,177 crew members who died.  After almost 75 years, oil, sometimes referred to as "the Arizona's tears" can still be seen floating to the surface from the ship.



The last area is the Shrine Room that features a simple marble wall engraved with the names of every sailor and marine from the USS Arizona that died as the result of the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor.  Like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, the simple, unadorned design focuses the attention of visitors where it belongs, on the names of those who lost their lives. Contrary to a popular misconception, the Arizona is not still considered an active navy ship.  It was decommissioned on December 1, 1942, but it has been designated as a US Military Cemetery. The flag flying above the memorial is attached to the broken main mast of the ship.  All of the survivors who were stationed on the Arizona at the time the attack can request to have their ashes interred on the ship with their shipmates.  Several have elected to do so and US Navy divers have delivered their ashes to gun turret #4 and then their names are listed on a separate plaque.  Below is a short video about one of these internment ceremonies.



 As of today, only 7 survivors are still alive.  For anyone interested in World War II, there are several other related attractions at Pearl Harbor including the Pacific Aviation Museum, the USS Bowfin and Submarine Museum and the USS Missouri.  These other exhibits charge entrance fees because they are owned and or managed by non-profit organizations.  There are Pearl Harbor tour packages that offer transportation and entrance fees to all of the Pearl Harbor exhibits.

USS Missouri
I think it is appropriate that ships representing both the beginning and the end of the World War II in the Pacific are a short distance from each other. The USS Missouri, the ship where the peace treaty between the US and Japan was signed, can be seen from the Arizona Memorial as we boarded the boat back to the shore.

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