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Day of infamy: Memorial marks 50 years of remembrance

The date lived in infamy.

The victims did not.

On that beautiful December Sunday morning, the U.S. Pacific fleet was thrown from peace to war in a matter of seconds. As a result of the attack, 2,402 servicemen and women were killed.

The USS Arizona, struck in its ammunition magazine by a bomb, blew apart. As a result, 1,177 sailors and Marines aboard were killed.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet was severely damaged. What few know about the attack, though, was that most of the ships destroyed or severely damaged were eventually refloated and repaired, going on to fight against the Japanese later in the war.

Three ships, however, did not share that fate: the USS Oklahoma, the USS Utah and the Arizona. The Oklahoma turned over, and hundreds of crewmen perished. Eventually, the Oklahoma was righted and moved to a drydock, but the repairs needed were too significant. It was sold for scrap in 1946, but it capsized again on the way home in a storm in 1947. The Utah was a relic, and had been refitted as a training and target ship prior to the attack, and its damage was deemed too significant for repair. It was stripped of usable parts and left in place.

The Arizona wreckage, though, was a tomb. It would, however, become perhaps the nation’s most well-known memorial to wartime casualties. It has drawn millions of tourists to the site. While this year marks the 71st anniversary of the attack, it has been 50 years since the site became a national memorial.

The memorial itself has an interesting story. Originally approved in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower, it was budgeted at $500,000. Various contributions flowed in, perhaps most notably from a local benefit concert by Elvis Presley. The design itself was done by Alfred Preis, a Honolulu architect of Austrian descent. Due to his ancestry, Preis had been interned on Sand Island for a short time after the attack.

The design of the memorial was shaped by the Navy, which wanted it to not touch the remains of the ship itself. The ship’s superstructure had long-since been removed. Its guns were removed after the attack, being used a shore emplacements to protect Hawaii, and a few actually were repaired and later fitted aboard the USS Nevada. Those guns were fired on Japanese forces during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. So the memorial rests over the remains of the Arizona, perpendicular to where the ship rests. One of its turrets remains above water, helping give visitors a sense of place and direction. To this day, oil still leaks from the ship.

Tourists visit the site by launch. Once the launch moors with the memorial, visitors step aboard, entering the entry room of the memorial. They proceed further into the open-air assembly room, noting some artifacts and inscriptions, as they make their way to the far wall, the shrine room. It is there that the names of the fallen are inscribed on a marble wall. Just to the front left of the wall is a smaller area which contains the names of sailors of the Arizona who survived the attack but chose to be interred with their fallen shipmates.

The Arizona Memorial is now the centerpiece of the National Park Service’s World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. A bridge connects Ford Island to Oahu, and several more pieces of the monument are easily accessible to tourists. The USS Missouri, the battleship where Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, is now a floating monument. Due to its massive size, it was placed well-behind the Arizona. As the Arizona represents the tragic beginning of the war, the Missouri represents the final victory.

Also on Ford Island, a memorial to the fallen men of the Oklahoma is near the entrance to the Missouri, and tourists can also see the Utah memorial as well. In addition, the Pacific Aviation Museum offers visitors the chance to see the aircraft of World War II and examine the role played by airpower in the fighting of the battles.

Back on shore, the submarine USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park honors the important role of the “Silent Service” in the war against Japan.

The grounds around the visitor center are dotted with areas devoted to education about the attack and the war itself. A salvaged anchor of the Arizona, made in Chester, is on display. A small shop has numerous items for sale, including hats and shirts of the Arizona’s sister ship, the USS Pennsylvania. Two of the guns from the Pennsylvania are on display at the Military Museum in Boalsburg.

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