The bodies of 1,102 sailors and marines were buried in the wreck

The USS Arizona battleship memorial in Hawaii and the sunken ship beneath it

On the morning of December 7, 1941 and without prior declaration of war, Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Figures of the Japanese attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor in 1941
The relics of the World War II at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

The Imperial Japanese Navy used 414 aircraft in this surprise attack on the main American base in Hawaii. Of the eight US Navy battleships at Pearl Harbor, seven were sunk and one was damaged. The Japanese attack left 2,403 dead, 1,178 wounded and maimed, and a total of 22 ships sunk or damaged in total. The attack was a Japanese success, although it failed in its attempt to destroy the American aircraft carriers, as there were none in Hawaii at the time of the attack. The Japanese also missed the opportunity to launch a new attack. If it had been carried out and the Pearl Harbor fuel depots had been destroyed, the damage to the US would have been much worse.

The battleship USS Arizona in a photo taken in the 1930s (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command).

The sinking of the battleship USS Arizona

The ship most damaged during the attack was the Pennsylvania-class battleship USS Arizona (BB-39). At 08:06, a Japanese bomb hit one of the ammunition depots located next to tower number 2 of the ship. A huge explosion occurred, probably when the Japanese bomb hit the projection charges stored in the lower decks of the battleship. Due to the powerful explosion and the subsequent fires, which were active for two days, 1,177 of the 1,512 sailors and Marines who were aboard the USS Arizona died. The fatal casualties recorded on this ship accounted for almost half of the deaths caused by the Japanese attack on Hawaii.

The powerful explosion that destroyed the USS Arizona in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This explosion caused most of the 1,177 deaths of its crew (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command).

The ship was sunk in the place it occupied in the area of the naval base known as Battleship Row. Only the superstructures of the USS Arizona remained above the water surface, but were seriously damaged. These superstructures were removed in 1942. Likewise, the two main aft towers, with three 356 mm guns each, were removed and installed in two coastal batteries near Oahu and Mokapu. The bow towers, having been badly damaged, were left on the wreck until 1944, when they were repaired and installed in the USS Nevada, another of the ships sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but which could be recovered.

The superstructures of the USS Arizona, in a photo taken a few days after the Japanese attack (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command).

At the time of its sinking, the USS Arizona was already a veteran ship: it was launched in 1915 and entered service with the US Navy the following year. She was 185.3 meters long and 29.6 meters wide, smaller than the large Iowa-class battleships.

The crew of the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) honoring the fallen of the USS Arizona as they passed by the monument on April 18, 1963 (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command).

USS Arizona Naval Grave and Memorial

Today, the wreck of the USS Arizona is a naval grave: the bodies of 1,102 of its crew are still inside. For this reason, the ship is considered a sacred place and to honor it, a first monument was built in 1950, raising the US Flag on the main mast of the ship. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the creation of a monument to the USS Arizona, which was funded by private contributions and from various institutions.

US Navy divers during a dive next to the USS Arizona Monument, to check its condition, on July 16, 2021 (Photo: U.S. Navy).

The monument, inaugurated on May 30, 1962, was designed by the architect Alfred Preis. It has a white structure 56 meters long, located on the sunken ship. Preis explained its form this way: "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."

A US sailor contemplates the marble wall with the names of the sailors and marines who fell on the USS Arizona in 1941 (Photo: U.S. Navy).

Inside the monument one of the ship's two bells is preserved, and in the background there is a marble wall with the men of the 1,177 sailors and marines who died on the USS Arizona. Furthermore, from time to time, the ashes of former crew members of the ship who survived the attack have been buried there, at their request, so that they could rest next to their fallen comrades. Even today the ship continues to emit fuel, fumes known in Hawaii as "black tears."

If you want to know more about what the sinking of the USS Arizona was like and what its monument is like, I encourage you to watch this video published by Jared Owen last Saturday:

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