USS Arizona Memorial History

Provided in part by
Vincent James "Jim" Vlach, Jr., USS Arizona Survivor

Built as part of America's pre-World War I modernization of the Navy, Arizona began her career as a gunnery training ship and cruised the coastal waters of the Atlantic Seaboard. She later served as flagship of the Atlantic Fleet and of various battleship divisions in the Pacific, including one based at Pearl Harbor. It was there on December 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack, that Arizona's magazines were pierced by a 1,760-lb bomb that shattered the battleship, instantly killing most of her crew and sinking the ship in 36 feet of water. Arizona's burning superstructure and listing masts became one of the most reproduced scenes of the Pacific war as the nation rallied to the cry, "Remember Pearl Harbor!" One of only two ships not refloated after the attack (USS Utah is the other), Arizona was left a shattered hulk on Battleship Row. 1,177 USS Arizona crew members were killed that day and of those men, over 900 remain entombed on the ship.

In the years immediately following the end of World War II, the wreck was largely ignored. The USS Arizona Memorial grew out of wartime desire to establish some sort of memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who died in the attack. Suggestions for such a memorial began in 1943, but it wasn't until 1949, when the Territory of Hawaii established the Pacific War Memorial Commission, that the first real steps were taken to bring it about.

Initial recognition came in 1950 when Admiral Arthur Radford, Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), ordered that a flagpole be erected over the sunken battleship and the tradition of raising and lowering the colors over the ship daily was started. On the ninth anniversary of the attack, a commemorative plaque was placed at the base of the flagpole. Momentum gradually began to build toward providing a memorial for the ship and those who died on her.

It took until 1958, to get some executive action, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower, approved the creation of a Memorial, using funds from Congress and private donations. The memorial needed half a million dollars.

In December 1958, the Ralph Edward's program "This is Your Life" honoring the USS Arizona and Admiral Samuel G. Fuqua raised $95,000.

Construction began on the memorial in 1960. By 1961, the total raised was $250,000, which was only half of what they needed. On March 25, 1961, Elvis Presley gave a unique live concert at the Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor to raise funds for the USS Arizona War Memorial raising nearly $65,000.

AmVets National Commander Harold Berc lobbied Congress and they appropriated $150,000 to finish the Memorial effort. The Memorial was completed in 1961 and dedicated on Memorial Day, 1962. The USS Arizona Memorial became a National Park Service area in 1980.


In 1965, Pearl Harbor (not just the USS Arizona Memorial) became the only naval base to be honored as a National Landmark. This was in recognition of its "exceptional value in commemorating and illustrating the history of the United States." June 29, 1965, the Department of Interior presented a bronze plaque to the Navy officially registering Pearl Harbor as a national shrine. Ceremonies were held at the Arizona Memorial boat landing.

Memorial Day 1966, USS Arizona Survivor, Chief Warrant Officer John H. McCarron, unveiled the ship's bell which was installed in the museum room of the USS U.S. Navy divers. The battleship was torpedoed** on December 7, 1941." Due to deterioration of the wooded frame that supported the bell, it was removed from the memorial in July of 1993. The 1256 pound bell was placed on a new mount in the lobby of the Arizona Memorial visitor center with rededication on Memorial Day 1994. (**Note: See P.512 from "At Dawn We Slept" in June 1999 issue of At 'Em Arizona P.7 At Em October 1999 regarding death of USS Arizona. Japanese records reveal no torpedoes fired at Berth F7. Also see our Historian's Report on P.9 of same newsletter.) Another bell is installed in the loft of the Student Body Building at University of Arizona, Tucson. It is used each year to sound the toll of nine bells in memory of the nine men from the state still entombed on the ship.

Ships entering Pearl Harbor usually pass the Arizona. The Officer of the Deck calls the crew to attention and all hands salute the approximately 900 souls still at their battle stations on Arizona.

One of the anchors raised from the ship is displayed at the USS Arizona Visitor Center. This anchor was cast in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1911 and weighs 19,585 pounds. On December 7, 1976, another USS Arizona anchor was made into a memorial to honor the ship's crewmen. The anchor is located at Bolin Plaza, State Capitol, Phoenix, Arizona.

According to its architect, Alfred Preis, the design of the Memorial, "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. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses...his innermost feelings."

The 184-foot-long Memorial structure spanning the mid-portion of the sunken battleship consists of three main sections: the entry and assembly rooms; a central area designed for ceremonies and general observation; and the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.

Contrary to popular belief, the Arizona was decommissioned and stricken from Navy registry on Dec. 1, 1942. As a special tribute to the ship and her lost crew, the United States flag flies from the flagpole, which is attached to the severed mainmast of the sunken battleship. The USS Arizona Memorial has come to commemorate all military personnel killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.