The USS Arizona: A Historical Overview
The USS Arizona, a U.S. battleship, met a tragic end during the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The attack claimed the lives of more than 1,170 crew members. Today, a concrete memorial, extending over the sunken wreck, pays tribute to those who perished.
Constructed in Brooklyn, New York, between 1914 and 1915, the USS Arizona was commissioned in 1916. As the largest and most heavily armed ship in the American navy, it measured 185 meters in length and weighed 31,400 tons.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
On December 6, 1941, the USS Arizona docked at Pearl Harbor. The following morning, the naval base was taken by surprise when over 350 Japanese planes launched an attack. The assault lasted two hours, during which the USS Arizona was hit. The ship, laden with ammunition and fuel, erupted in a massive explosion, lifting the heavy vessel out of the water before it sank. Despite its descent, the Japanese continued to bombard the ship. Of the crew members on board that day, 1,177 lost their lives, with only 334 surviving. The ship sank approximately 12 meters into the water, and it took over two days for the fires to be extinguished.
The Aftermath and the Decision to Leave the Fallen
Attempts were made to recover the bodies of the fallen, but it was quickly decided that the over 900 bodies trapped inside the sunken ship would be left undisturbed. Over the following years, parts of the USS Arizona were salvaged and repurposed for other battleships. Any parts of the ship that remained above the water’s surface were also removed. Although the USS Arizona was officially removed from the Navy’s register at the end of 1942, it was symbolically recommissioned in 1950.
The Creation of the Memorial
In 1958, plans to create a memorial for the USS Arizona were approved. Funded entirely by donations, the construction of the memorial was aided by a one-time benefit concert organized by Elvis Presley in Pearl Harbor in 1961. The construction and inauguration of the USS Arizona Memorial took two years, culminating in a ceremony on May 30, 1962.
The Design and Symbolism of the Memorial
Designed by Austrian architect Alfred Preis, the memorial is a 56-meter long structure of white concrete and steel that extends above the wreck. Its simple yet poignant design features a concave silhouette, with the center symbolizing the nation’s low point at the time of the attack and the raised ends representing eventual victory. The memorial also includes 21 outdoor windows, a reference to a 21-gun salute.
Since 1980, the National Park Service has overseen the memorial, which is visited annually by approximately 1.8 million people.
A Continual Reminder of the Tragedy
At the time of the attack, the USS Arizona was carrying a full load of fuel—almost 1.5 million liters—in preparation for a planned voyage later that month. Despite the fires that raged after the bombing, approximately 500,000 liters of fuel remain in the shipwreck. Each day, the ship leaks about 9 liters of oil into the harbor, serving as a continual reminder of the devastation that took place.