The USS Arizona was a battleship in the U.S. Navy, commissioned by the Congress in 1916 to serve in World War I. It was the last of the Pennsylvania-class battleships and was named to honor the 48th state to enter the union. The USS Arizona served stateside during World War I as a gunnery training ship that guarded the waters between Virginia and New York. The ship was not deployed to foreign waters during the war because it was an oil-guzzler and there was a scarcity of fuel during World War I.
In the years between the two world wars, the USS Arizona served in the Caribbean, Guatanamo Bay, the Panama Canal and in the waters of Hawaii. For 14 years it was a flagship for BatDiv 2, 3 and 4 and was taken into the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1929 for modifications that would modernize the ship. It was soon put back into full commission and in 1935 was featured in the 1935 James Cagney film, Here Comes the Navy. After serving for several years in the United States fleet in Hawaiian waters, on December 5, 1941, the USS Arizona was moored alongside the USS Nevada and USS Oklahoma at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.
At 8:06 am on December 7, 1941, the Japanese torpedo carrier, Kaga, dropped a bomb which resulted in an explosion that destroyed the entire front portion of the USS Arizona and sank the ship at its berth. Historians and scientists still disagree about how precisely this must have happened, but it is commonly believed that the explosion was due to a detonation of a black powder magazine (used for aircraft catapults) which was stored beneath the deck of the ship. The fires that alighted on the battleship burned for two days, and, ironically, the blast that set off these fires extinguished the fires that were burning on the nearby repair ship, Vestal.
Of the 1,400 crewmen who were on board the USS Arizona that morning, 1,177 lost their lives, a number which amounted to over half the casualties in the entire Pearl Harbor attack. The ship’s captain, Franklin Van Valkenberg, and Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, who was the first flag officer killed in the war, also went down with the ship; both later received posthumous Medals of Honor for their bravery. Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua was another USS Arizona hero who received a Medal of Honor for the calmness and leadership he demonstrated in trying to quell the ship’s fires and evacuate its crew.
After the clean-up of the wreckage, very little of the battleship’s superstructure remained above water. Of all the vessels lining Battleship Row on the day of the attack, the USS Arizona was the most badly damaged. The battleship was officially removed from the Naval Vessel Register on December 1, 1942, and was never returned to service, despite common belief that it is even now in commission.
The USS Arizona wreckage is still maintained at Pearl Harbor and has been converted into a memorial that has come to commemorate all the soldiers who lost their lives in the Japanese attack. In 1958, President Eisenhower approved the creation of a memorial, for which many had been hungering, and in 1961, using private donations and funds appropriated by Congress, a 184-foot tall memorial was constructed atop the remaining portion of the USS Arizona.
Alfred Preis, the architect of the USS Arizona Memorial, explained the thoughts behind the design: “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.”
1.5 million people visit the USS Arizona Memorial every year, and the site is painstakingly maintained by the National Park Service in an agreement with the U.S. Navy. The ship held over 1.5 million gallons of oil, and starting in the 1940s, people began to observe oil leakages from the ship. Even today, nearly 70 years after the attack, oil still leaks from the hull, and some survivors of Pearl Harbor say that it will continue to leak until the last survivor dies.