USS Arizona Medal of Freedom Aims to Commemorate Battleship’s Crew and Legacy

Photo Credit: 1. Pictures from History / Universal Images Group / Getty Images 2. Kent Nishimura / Getty Images

The sinking of the USS Arizona (BB-39) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, saw the deaths of 1,177 sailors and Marines. A memorial dedicated to those who perished was later built over the wreckage, but not before the ship’s superstructure was removed. The steel from that has since been turned into the USS Arizona Medal of Freedom, thanks to the efforts of survivor and US Navy veteran Lauren Bruner.

Close-up on Lauren Bruner's face
USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner during a memorial service for the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 2014. (Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty Images)

The USS Arizona and the rest of the Pacific Fleet were moved from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in April 1940, to act as a deterrent to Japanese imperialism. A day prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Pennsylvania-class battleship had taken on nearly 1.5 million gallons of fuel in preparation for a trip to the mainland later that month.

During the attack on the morning of December 7, 1941, Arizona was struck by horizontal bombers, receiving minor damage to her after and midship areas. The ship was then struck by a 1,760-pound projectile just after 8:00 AM, causing her fuel and the hundreds of thousands of pounds of munitions she was carrying to detonate. The explosion was powerful enough to lift the vessel out of the water.

The 1,177 crew members to perish onboard Arizona made up nearly half of the estimated 2,400 casualties of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of that total, 900 were unable to be removed from the wreckage, which burned for three days before sinking off the shore of Ford Island.

After the superstructure was removed from the vessel, Arizona was left to sit in the waters off Ford Island. The USS Arizona National Memorial was later built over top of the wreckage.

Aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, May 2001. (Photo Credit: Kevin Winter / Touchstone Pictures / Getty Images)

Between 334 and 355 crew members survived the attack, 92 of which were onboard when the Japanese attacked. One of those was Fire Controlman Third Class Lauren Bruner, who was shot twice in the leg and suffered burns to over 70 percent of his body. After recovering from his injuries, he returned to fight in the war, completing seven operations in the South Pacific. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his service, and retired from the Navy in 1947.

Following the Second World War, Bruner dedicated his life to ensuring the sacrifices made by his fellow crew members and those who died on December 7, 1941 were never forgotten. In 2015, he established the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation, and prior to his death in 2019 began brainstorming the best ways to preserve and pass down the battleship’s legacy.

What came of this was the USS Arizona Medal of Freedom, which contains steel from the ship. After the superstructure was removed following Arizona‘s sinking, it was left to rust away in a field, with the Navy giving pieces to surviving crew members.

Lauren Bruner dressed in a suit
USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner, July 2017. (Photo Credit: Chris Kleponis-Pool / Getty Images)

According to the official website, the medal, which can be purchased for a donation of $1,000 USD, the steel from the Arizona was mixed with a stainless steel alloy to prevent it from rusting. The metal was authenticated by metallurgist Christopher Ramsay at the Missouri University of Science & Technology.

Purchasers will be given the option to choose the engraving on their medals, including the opportunity to honor their chosen military branch or their state. They will receive six additional gifts, including a copy of Bruner’s book, Second to Last to Leave USS Arizona, and a certificate of authenticity.

Each donation will be given directly to the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation.

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Following his death, Bruner was laid to rest among his shipmates in the USS Arizona.