Most people know that the USS Arizona was one of the ships that was bombed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona’s sinking took with it, 1,177 men…almost half of the total of 2,403 people killed at Pearl Harbor. The Arizona was one of 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes lost that day. We know that the attack woke the sleeping giant that is the United States, and we joined World War II with the Allies to stop the tyranny that was Japan and later Germany and Italy. Most people know that the Allies were successful in World War II, and after four long years and the loss of over 400,000 lives, the war was over. There are a few facts about the USS Arizona that many people might not know, however.
Twenty three sets of brothers died aboard USS Arizona. In all there were 37 confirmed pairs or trios of brothers assigned to the ship. Of the 77 men in those sets, 62 were killed. Only one full set of brothers survived. Kenneth and Russell Warriner survived because Kenneth was away at flight school in San Diego, and Russell, while badly wounded, lived. Also on board were father and son, Thomas Free and his son William who served and were killed aboard the Arizona that day. While no regulation exists, US officials discouraged siblings serving on the same ship after the Pearl Harbor attack. In addition to these men who died, the USS Arizona’s entire band, all 21 members, known as US Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22, were lost in the attack. Most of its members were up on deck preparing to play music for the daily flag raising ceremony when the attack began. They instantly moved to man their battle positions beneath the ship’s gun turret. It was the only time in American history that an entire military band died in action. In the years following the attack, and following the decision to leave the dead in the USS Arizona, it was decided that a memorial should be placed there. That is a known fact, but what I didn’t know was that in March 1961, Elvis Presley, who had recently finished a two year stint in the US Army, performed a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Block Arena that raised over $50,000. That was more than 10 percent of the USS Arizona Memorial’s final cost. The monument was officially dedicated on May 30, 1962.
One of the most surprising facts about the Arizona, however, is related to the fuel. The day before the Pearl Harbor attack, the Arizona had taken on a full load of fuel…nearly 1.5 million gallons, because it was set to make a trip to the mainland later that month. When the Japanese bombers attacked, that fuel played a major part in the explosions and raging fire that followed the bombing. After the fires were put out, there were 500,000 gallons of fuel left in the ship. Now, 75 years later, the Arizona continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day. In the mid-1990s, concerns for the environment led the National Park Service to commission a series of site studies to determine the long term effects of the oil leakage. Some scientists have warned of a possible “catastrophic” eruption of oil from the wreckage, which they believe would cause extensive damage to the Hawaiian shoreline and disrupt US naval functions in the area. They continue to monitor the deterioration of the wreck site but are reluctant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to the Arizona’s role as a “war grave.” In fact, the oil that often coats the surface of the water surrounding the ship has added an emotional gravity for many who visit the memorial and is sometimes referred to as the “tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”
As surprising as that is, there is still one more fact that many people didn’t know. The bonds between the crewmembers of Arizona have lasted far beyond the loss of the ship on December 7, 1941. Since 1982, the US Navy has allowed survivors of USS Arizona to be interred in the ship’s wreckage upon their deaths. After a full military funeral at the Arizona memorial, the cremated remains are placed in an urn and then deposited by divers beneath one of the Arizona’s gun turrets. More than 30 Arizona crewmen who survived Pearl Harbor have chosen the ship as their final resting place. Crewmembers who served on the ship prior to the attack may have their ashes scattered above the wreck site, and those who served on other vessels stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, may have their ashes scattered above their former ships. As of November 2011, only 18 of the 355 crewmen who survived the bombing of USS Arizona are known to be alive. I knew that the Pearl Harbor attack had a deep impact on the lives of the survivors, but I guess I didn’t fully understand that it was a life changing event, and it would never really leave them.