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PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- On October 17, 1916, Woodrow Wilson was president and the average pay for an ensign in the Navy was $141.67 per month. The world was embroiled in World War I and the United States was preparing for the reality of having to join the bloody battle. The same year, USS Arizona (BB-39) was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York.
Throughout the ship’s 25-year career, it operated around the globe, serving the nation in times of war and peace. Having provided defense to the United States during World War I, Arizona assisted in escorting President Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference, where the terms of peace were established following the war. She was then transferred to the Pacific Fleet.
In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, Arizona, along with 1,177 Sailors and Marines, were lost during the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a speech before Congress. “The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.”
Among the 335 survivors was Pvt. Russell J. McCurdy, a 23-year-old assigned to Arizona’s Marine Detachment who had just come off watch when general quarters sounded. In an October 20, 1999 interview with Budd Nease, USS Arizona Reunion Association Historian, McCurdy detailed his detachment's quick muster, efforts to reach their battle stations, the devastating destruction and resulting acts of heroism that took place.
"The ship was shaking, tossing and went up out of the water, then the bow rose up forty feet into the air and the bow opened up like a petal of a flower,” said McCurdy. Once he was able to swim to safety he reported for duty on the USS Tennessee (BB-43). Of the 88 Marines assigned to Arizona only 15 survived.
The attack lasted just under four hours, but Arizona burned for more than two days with temperatures reaching more than 8000 degrees Fahrenheit. Ultimately she sank and took more than 900 Sailors and Marines with her to their final resting place.
Even as the island buried their dead and tended to the wounded, the military had to move quickly to ensure they were prepared for the possibility of additional attacks on Oahu. Arizona’s Turrets III and IV were removed, restored and placed at shore coastal artillery sites; Battery Arizona and Battery Pennsylvania. Each site was named in honor of the Arizona, the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) being Arizona’s sistership. Guns and mounts from Turret II were refurbished and installed on USS Nevada (BB-36), who was aft of the Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After additional repairs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Nevada returned to serve throughout the war. As salvage efforts continued, Arizona materials resting above the waterline were removed to prevent deterioration and were deposited locally on Waipio Peninsula.
In early January 2021, Adm. John Aquilino, Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, then Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet was inspired by these remaining materials and began planning what would result in the USS Arizona (BB-39) Superstructure Relic Program (ASRP). Aiming to connect today’s Sailors to our nation’s naval history.
“Distributing solemn pieces of our naval history to ships throughout the Pacific Fleet highlights our commitment to honor those that came before us and ensures today’s Sailors always remember the fighting spirit and sacrifices made by the warriors who fought for our freedom many years ago,” said Aquilino.
The ASRP members include Navy History and Heritage Command (NHHC), Pacific Fleet, Navy Region Hawaii (NRH) and Construction Battalion Mobile Unit 303 (Seabees). The program’s goal is to create and deepen connections between the Sailors of today and those of the past. The team oversaw the planning, construction and distribution of 138 relics to Pacific Fleet ships and submarines.
“We received outstanding support from everyone involved: NHHC’s conservation experts advised how to handle and display the relics, the Seabees cut and preserved them, the Navy Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Centers procured and packed the boxes for transport and distribution, and the Navy Air Logistics Office helped fly the boxes as space available cargo from Hawaii to Fleet concentration areas across the Pacific,” said Bruce Stewart, U.S. Pacific Fleet Logistics Planning Director.
The ASRP has taken care to ensure the relics are available to inspire future generations. Each relic was preserved and mounted in a display case built and sealed with shipboard safe materials. Additionally, guidelines were created to ensure the relics will be passed-down when a ship or submarine is decommissioned.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), whose namesake honors Rear Admiral Gordon Pai’ea Chung-Hoon, the first Hawaiian-born Admiral in the U.S. Navy, was presented the first relic display in a ceremony onboard May 21, 2021. All 138 Pacific Fleet ships and submarines will receive relics in ceremonies held throughout the area of operations, which covers nearly 100 million square miles - half of the Earth’s surface.
Considered Heritage Assets, the Arizona relics fall under the remit of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) and are coded and tracked. As these relics belong not to individuals, but to every American, distribution to individuals or private for–profit entities is not authorized. The ASRP members have ensured these relics would be cared for by those who continue to serve in the Pacific Fleet. In addition to the Arizona relic, each display includes a brass plaque with the inscription:
December 7, 1941
“TO THEM, WE HAVE A SOLEMN OBLIGATION”
ADMIRAL CHESTER W. NIMITZ
PRESENTED ON THE 80TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR
“While the distribution to every U.S. Pacific Fleet ship and submarine is a sizable undertaking, it was made easy with the amazing support that we received across the Navy”, said Stewart. “Once commands understood the solemn nature of the project, they could not wait to help-out.”
The final relic will be presented to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Daniel K. Inouye (DDG 118), during its commissioning ceremony on Dec. 8, 2021. The ship is named after the Honorable Daniel K. Inouye, United States Senator from Hawaii and U.S. Army veteran known and remembered for his heroic efforts in World War II. The USS Chung-Hoon and USS Daniel K. Inouye are fitting bookends to this meaningful project.
While the Pearl Harbor National Memorial continues to see more than one million visitors each year, the relics displayed aboard these ships and submarines offer today's service members a physical reminder of that fateful day 80 years ago, regardless of where they are in the world’s oceans, and of the fighting spirit of those who came before.