Today the battle-scarred, submerged remains of the battleship USS Arizona—the final resting place for almost half of the over 2,500 lives lost on the morning of December 7, 1941—remains as a memorial to lost souls and the cost of war. The Arizona was only one of the casualties from the deadly attack by the Japanese. Aptly, President F. D. Roosevelt described it as, “a date which will live in infamy.” Today, we recall and remember those words and pass the knowledge to yet another generation so they may also realize the cost of infamy (the state of being well-known for some bad quality or deed).
Iconic images of the Arizona’s burning bridge, billowing black smoke and listing mast and superstructure dominated the front page of newspapers and endure to tell a story. Indelibly impressed into the national memory, American’s recalled the image with each issuance of the battle cry, “Remember Pearl Harbor.” Today, the battle cry and the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor still serve as reminders to honor the sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines present when the “sleeping giant” was awaken.
For those fortunate enough to visit the USS Arizona and experience the power and emotion present on the memorial, the “black tears of the Arizona” are likely etched into your memory.
On December 6, 1941, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel—nearly 1.5 million gallons—in preparation for its scheduled trip to the mainland later that month. The next day, much of the oil was expended feeding the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ship following its attack by Japanese bombers. However, despite the raging fire and ravages of time, some 500,000 gallons are still slowly seeping out of the ship’s submerged wreckage. Nearly 70 years after its demise, the USS Arizona continues to spill up to nine quarts of oil into the harbor each day.
Scientists have raised alarm bells warning of the possibility of a “catastrophic” eruption of oil from the wreckage. The result would be extensive damage to the Hawaiian shoreline and disruption of U.S. naval functions in the area. The NPS and other governmental agencies continue to monitor the Arizona’s deterioration but are reluctant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to the Arizona’s role as a “war grave.” Thus, over 70 years later, we are still moved by the black tears of the Arizona.
If you have visited the USS Arizona memorial and felt its emotional gravity, share you comments of feelings in the comment section.
My first exposure to the Arizona was in June 1959, before the current memorial was constructed over the ship. There was still significant superstructure above water. My dad (and coincidentally my mom – credit where due!) was a WWII Navy Vet who transitioned to the Coast Guard to continue flying. He was transferred to Barbers Point, and we were arriving on a Navy transport from Mare Island. We arrived in the early morning sailing past Diamond Head and into Pearl. One of the strongest memories I have from childhood is the ABSOLUTE SILENCE on the ship as all the adults stood on the port side to look at the Arizona. My memory is the silence. Even the kids were silent because of the adults. I could not understand what fascinated them so much. It was just an old wreck. But to my parents and the rest of the adults, this ship represented the seminal event that completely changed all their lives. As impressive as the current memorial is, and it is truly impressive, I don’t think it compares to that first encounter. Time and distance really do dull perception.
Parenthetically, my other hair raising memory also comes from that time in Hawaii as a child, and involves watching the night sky turn to day as an atomic bomb was detonated over Johnson Island 700 miles away from Hawaii. The next war?
Lets not forget the other big ones sunk at PH. Raised, repaired, and put back in action they inflicted great damage on the Jap surface fleet in the Philippines, crossed the tee twice on them. The salvage ops at PH were an engineering biggie.
I had a somewhat unique experience regarding the Arizona Memorial. For a period of time, I was attached (first) to the US Third Fleet, whose ashore headquarters was several buildings on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Each day, we walked from the fleet landing (no bridge from mainland Oahu to Ford Island in those days) right past the airfield control tower still pockmarked with Japanese bullet holes from strafing. Later, I was attached to CINCIPACFLT once Third Fleet was skeletonized and largely demob’ed.
One of my duties was to conduct visiting foreign officer tours to the Arizona Memorial. Depending on the importance and the highest rank of the visiting foreign dignitaries, we might lay on the Admiral’s barge, schedule a buffet lunch, show a carefully prepared 30 minute historical film, discuss proper decorum at the Memorial since it was considered a National Cemetery and take the brief boat trip from shore side fleet landing on Oahu to the Memorial.
I had the privilege of taking the very first Japanese Self Defense Navy Officers on the tour ever made by Japanese officers. One could not have asked for more in the way of respect, decorum and behavior on the part of the Japanese. They treated it as a shrine of great distinction.
I was given unlimited access to official and unofficial sourced information to prepare my brief. Nothing was denied to me, including the record of the Court Martial of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the CINICPAC and CINCPACFLT at the time of the Japanese attack. Kimmel was made a scapegoat and it was my conclusion that he was treated shabbily in an undeserved punishment. Chester Nimitz, his successor, was as kind to Kimmel as he could possibly be and I think he would have agreed with my conclusion.
There were several questions and conspiracy theories that long surrounded the Pearl Harbor attack. First, that Roosevelt knew of the upcoming Japanese attack and deliberately concealed the fact to anger the American public out of its isolationist and antiwar views. Failure to warn Pearl Harbor meant that it was wholly unprepared for the attack when it came. My research concluded that the charge was false. Did the government have actual knowledge before the attack? Yes. Was it concealed deliberately? No. It was government and bureaucratic ineptitude and inefficiency that prevented advance knowledge of the impending attack being communicated to Pearl. There were several screw ups, including timidity of junior officers who waited too long for senior officer approval before releasing known information, lack of belief on that part of civilian leadership, lack of absolute certainty of intelligence information and failure of the Washington, DC bureaucracy to understand the need for “outer areas” like Pearl Harbor might need the critical intelligence of the coming attack. In any event, there could have been some warning had the government not just screwed up.
Second, no one “in the know” thought in 1941 that aircraft carriers had any purpose except possibly close air support of an amphibious operation or scouting for any enemy battleships. It was not believed, in conventional wisdom, that aircraft carriers could have an offensive capability. In those days, all naval battles would be fought, or so it was thought, by battleships in line abreast, just as all naval battles had been fought since the days of the Spanish Armada in the 1,580’s or so. Big gun “dreadnoughts” lined up at sea opposite each other and pounded away at each other with their big guns. That was the only way naval battles could be fought and won, or so it was thought.
Third, and related, aircraft carriers were thought to be incapable of sinking large ships with water tight integrity. That over looked the naval battle of Taranto early in WWII when the Brits, using a bi-plane design (the Faerie Battle, if memory serves) sunk a significant portion of the Italian Navy in harbor, using torpedoes — which was widely reported in the British press in some detail and which it is thought that the Japanese knew of.
Fourth, it was thought that the torpedo was the only airdropped weapon that could sink a battle ship and that bombs were not powerful enough to do the job. In those days, a bomb was usually a 250 pound weapon instead of our much bigger weapons of later times. A torpedo had a much bigger warhead, and due to the hydraulic fact that you cannot compress a liquid, a torpedo detonation underwater had a force multiplier effect and could disrupt water tight integrity. However, when a torpedo was dropped from a speeding airplane into water, it immediately dove down over 200 feet deep before coming back to its preset depth and running to its target. That is fine in deep water but in a relatively shallow harbor like Pearl Harbor which, at its deepest, is about 60 feet, it just doesn’t work. So, the brains in the Navy Department in Washington, DC thought Pearl Harbor was absolutely safe from an air dropped torpedo attack.
But, the British solved that problem by adding wooden baffles on the back of their torpedoes when they attacked the Italian Navy in Taranto well before Pearl Harbor. That fact was also reported in the British press. That was exactly what the Japanese did to their torpedoes to make them work in Pearl Harbor. The wooden, or bamboo in the case of the Japanese, baffles on the back end of the torpedo slowed its diving impetus enough to keep it from burying in the mud at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and works similarly to the “snakeye” bombs we used in Vietnam and since. The speed of the weapon is greatly retarded as it falls and so its terminal speed is greatly reduced.
Fifth, at our own Naval War College, in the 1930’s, we used a graduation exercise war game called “Case Orange”. Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor surprise attack, was the Japanese Naval Attache for 3 years in Washington, DC and while there, attended our War College. Case Orange was a practical problem involving a hypothetical Asian country on the Pacific Rim that used carrier launched aircraft to attack our “Blue” fleet of battle ships in a shallow island harbor. That was the graduation problem for some years at our war college and we may have helped Yamamoto plan his attack strategy.
Finally tonight, since the US National Park Service has taken control of the USS Arizona Memorial from the Navy, it has suffered from lack of TLC and the Park Service was allowing the selling of what were supposed to be free tickets to visit the Arizona Memorial. Wasn’t that way when the Navy controlled the Memorial. Oh well.
G’day MacII. First, thank you for your service. Excellent essay – you added some facts that I was not aware of before, most of which I read in the book “At Dawn We Slept”. Well worth reading. The aircraft at Taranto were Fairey Swordfish, biplanes with a maximum speed of around 130 mph. Known to it’s pilots and aircrew as the “Stringbag”, multiple bracing wires between the wings. More at: “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare”, page 2440. (That page is in Vol. 22)
“Lest we forget…..”
Thank you for the kind remarks. I should have remembered it was the Swordfish and not the Battle. Getting old and I miss my memory.
The author of “At Dawn We Slept” interviewed my predecessor at Third Fleet and credited him in the book with providing information. We had a personally signed copy of the book which we kept in the intelligence space.
My swan song with the Navy was in 1989-1990 was in Australia. I was part of the CINCPACFLT liaison team sent to Canberra and Sydney. Absolutely loved the WWII Memorial in Canberra. We had to move our equipment to the “Sandbox” before we could commence Desert Storm. The Air Force told the Army that they could move all the “stuff” by air — but it would take all their transport aircraft, flying 24 hours a day for 127 years. So, it had to be a sea lift, which took about 19 months total. However, we did not want to put our latest and greatest equipment on US “flag of convenience” ships, which were largely crewed by mainland Chinese, North Koreans or Malays. The idea of putting Patriot missile batteries, M1 Abrams tanks and and so forth on US owned ships crewed by foreigners was not acceptable. We needed modern, national fleet ships and in the end our research indicated two countries could provide the needed ships — Denmark and Australia. Pretty much how Maersk got its real start. Both nations had modern fleets and every ship was crewed by citizens of the country.
We thought we were going to be in Australia for two years but it turned out to be less than 4 months. Our State Department (“Foggy Bottom”) sent over 42 people to handle the civilian side and CINCPACFLT sent 6 Navy Officers to be liaison with the Royal Australian Navy. What a Wonderful bunch of Guys!!
I absolutely loved being in Australia — with my Navy pay. In a perfect world, we would move about 60 % of our people there and about 90 % of their people here.
We had one problem with the arrangement with the Australian ships and its solution ended up terminating the need for us being in Australia. The first merchant vessel to approach the Straits of Hormuz sent a message back saying that, as Master (civilian speak for “Captain” of the ship — I always suspected it went back to the Napoleonic era and the British practice of putting a “Sailing Master” on all Naval vessels) of the ship, he was refusing to proceed. He was concerned about Silk Worm anti-ship missiles, un-moored floating Naval mines, Iranian and Iraqi surface craft, Iranian Air Force planes and other threats. His message came in when the Australians were at afternoon tea. We Americans went to General Quarters and did our best imitation of deceased chickens separated from their heads. We ran around in little circles with no idea how to solve the problem until our Chief, Naval Staff liaison came back from tea.
He took one look at the message and said (truly) “No worries, mate”. He disappeared and came back about 20 minutes later. In his hand, he had two flimsy copies of out going messages.
The first was the ship’s Master. It informed him that he was commissioned a Leftenant Commander in the Royal Australian Navy and his orders were to proceed to his port of debarkation on pain of court martial.
The second message was to the former owners of the ship informing them that their ship was then property of the Australian government on an extended charter for $10,000 per month in Australian currency, dry. Dry meant that they ship owner had to buy the fuel. The ship consumed considerably more than $10,000 per week in fuel, let alone a month. The former charter, the ship owner was informed, to the US at $12,000 per day, wet (meaning we bought the fuel) was void.
The word got around with the speed of summer lightning among all the Australian ship owners. We were no longer needed and no other Master bothered to indicate that they would not go as ordered. We came back to the States.
We all loved Australia and would like to have just stayed on. I have never been any where that I liked nearly as well. But, most of the magic was the wonderful people we met.
I’m not sure just what ‘history’ is being taught in Australian schools these days, but there’s a whole bunch of mature Australians who are still grateful for the US efforts and sacrifices made during WWII.
Outside the museum in Canberra, the remains of on of a Japanese submarine recovered from Sydney Harbor – gives an idea of what could have happened.
You have an excellent memory, and from what I’ve read, a good command of language, have you considered writing a book on your experiences? Just a thought.
Again, thank you for your service, and may the coming year be all you want it to be. Gabby, Tombstone AT.
Thanks so much again for the kind words. With the Navy and otherwise, I have visited 47 countries and never found one that came close to being as nice, open and friendly as Australia. As I said, loved it, especially the people I met.
On the book idea, maybe some day but now our plates are entirely too full to take on another project.
Oh dear, the airplane photograph. An Avro Lancaster, a Supermarine Spitfire, and a Hawker Hurricane. British WWII aircraft. With these three in formation, the photo was probably taken at a Battle of Britain remembrance.
If I were ever to address a Memorial Day gathering my speech would be, “I am an Australian. I was born before Pearl Harbor. I do not speak Japanese. Thank you.”
Been there. My Father Lost an Adopted son there. I wasn’t born yet, but will never get to know my 1/2 brother. He never Forgot–Or, Forgave that EVER!. Did know another 1/2 brother by same also in Navy.
Today we have the ability to safely and honorably preserve this memorial as well as remove the oil and hazards that remain. It was done at the 9/11 site why not here? The 9/11 site was rebuilt due to political & economic reasons. The Arizona site should be done in honor of the fallen and out of respect for the inhabitants of the Island not to mention the environment.
Dave Dolbee and John Henry: Comments on the leaking oil are questionable. Ships in those days burned bunker fuel. To pump bunker fuel to the boilers, from the fuel tanks, it had to be heated to liquify it from the solid state (amorphous compound so not really a solid, just gets thicker or thinner). From the article people may get the impression it is about to erupt and sent a liquid flow to the surface, and mess up the harbor. Some higher distillates may be leaking, but this is small amount compared to the quoted .5 mil. gal. Note tar and gravel roads people drive on, or hot tar roofing is very similar to this bunker fuel. Dave putting in this EPA punch line is a low blow, and I think is inappropriate for this occasion. Also, who are these so called scientists, are they the political puppet type? Many more sunken large ships are strewn across the Pacific Ocean with this type of fuel, and are forgotten.
Tom Henry: Very sorry about the John Henry. One of my favorite songs must have twisted the brain when typing.
We visited the Memorial just this fall. I didn’t know how I would feel, having watched many documentaries, read books on WWII. I served ’68 to ’72. About that day of infamy, Germany was making some mistakes in Russia. We had an embargo on Japan. Hitler’s plans of “world” domination would include Japan, eventually. Just my opinion, had Japan not attacked then, turning the hearts and minds of a reluctant American people from tenuous neutrality, had we waited just another six months, all could be different. Churchill was brilliant, if unappreciated, but England was hurting. Hitler could afford a second front. Winter was a problem, but summer was coming. Could they have conquered Russia in another six months had we not joined? In another six months, would England still be standing? Hitler just needed another summer, in my humble opinion. This crystal ball is cloudy.
I came away from the Memorial that those 2400 men were not just American heroes, but world heroes. So too the wounded, the nurses, everyone there that day. They did it for a whole lot better world than what Hitler had in mind.
I am sickened when I hear idiots decry the bombs we dropped in Japan, which though killing hundreds of thousands, untold American lives, and certainly millions of Japanese, were saved.
How we spurn the blood spilled for our freedom, now, in post-modern America….
Visited the site 20years ago.Still remember how many Japanese were also there.The Arizona has always inspired me and still reminds me of how blessed we are to live in a country that is so unique in the worlds history. It is our collective misfortune to have a president in power who doesnt respect the incredible sacrifice America has time made time and again in defense of all of our freedoms.Hillary also has no clue.
I remember well the Arizona as I visited it several times from 1960 thru 1967 while serving in the U S Navy with 2 tours to Viet Nam. Also my father was a Marine in the Pacific during WWII and fought at Okinawa. Sadly too many of our young do not know and are not taught the history of the fighting that gives them their liberty. We did however serve to preserve the liberty for all Americans to think and act however they want.