USS Arizona, a sunken warship, weeps black tears for her dead. And although the natural beauty of Oahu—lush vegetation, crystal water, and volcanic mountains—should be Pearl Harbor’s chief attractions, they aren’t because of the nostalgic memories of the nation’s Black Sunday, December 7, 1941.
On this day, at 8:06 am, a massive bomb landed on Arizona’s forward decks igniting 500 tons of explosives stored in the powder magazine below. Although the ship burned for two days, she sank in just nine minutes.
Japanese Surprise Attack Devastates US Navy
Almost 2,400 Americans died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. About half the deaths were from USS Arizona alone—1,177 sailors aboard the ship lost their lives, the highest death toll on a US warship.
Today, after almost 74 years, Oahu’s breathtaking scenery is merely the backdrop for the nation’s majestic memorial—the USS Arizona Memorial which you can visit when taking any of the Pearl Harbor tours.
The Reason for the Pearl Harbor Attack
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because they wanted to neutralize the world’s number one fleet—the US Pacific Fleet—and usurp that prestigious position. Japan also wanted to safeguard its armed forces’ advance into the Dutch East Indies and Malaya, where it sought unhindered access to rubber and oil.
The US Response
Ironically, although Japan wanted to deter the US from entering the arena of the Second World War, the attack on Pearl Harbor hastened the entry of the US into the war. The Japanese armed forces wanted to intimidate the US and warn the nation of the heavy casualties involved in a direct conflict with Japan.
But the Pearl Harbor attack angered the US populace. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response was immediate. The very next day, on December 8, 1941, the US President declared war on Japan.
The USS Arizona was removed from the US naval vessels’ official register on December 1, 1942. Contrary to popular belief, she isn’t a commissioned naval ship any longer.
The Black Tears of USS Arizona
USS Arizona had about 1.4 million gallons of fuel when she sank. Even today, about two quarts of this fuel surfaces every day. These oil droplets are named “Black Tears” by Pearl Harbor survivors. The bond between the shipmates aboard USS Arizona went way past being mere comrades. When the ship went down, 37 sets of brothers went down with it.
The USS Arizona Memorial
Today, the submerged remains of the ship rest on Pearl Harbor’s silt—just as they settled on that fateful day. On this infamous day, the US lost many other ships and aircraft. But it was USS Arizona’s burning bridge along with its listing mast and superstructure that were emblazoned on the nation’s newspapers.
This image was indelibly impressed on the people’s memory. Every American would recall this image whenever they heard the war cry, “Remember Pearl Harbor.” This photograph symbolized the start of a war that claimed over four hundred thousand American lives.
1,177 Personnel Honored
The wartime desire to institute a memorial at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the dead began in 1943. But the first steps were taken only in 1949 after the establishment of the Pacific War Memorial Commission by the Territory of Hawaii.
Almost two million visitors flock to the USS Arizona Memorial every year. The visitors file quietly through the renovated building and toss flowers into the water. They can see the black oil that still leaks from the ruptured bunkers—a drop at a time.
The Shrine Room
At the heart of this memorial is the Shrine Room. Here, the names of all the 1,177 personnel who died are engraved on a marble wall. The 337 survivors are remembered too. Many interment ceremonies for USS Arizona survivors have been held here.
Visitors to the memorial are free to explore the recently renovated Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. This new center is run by the National Park Service. It has been expanded from the original 3 acres to more than 17 acres.
The USS Arizona Memorial, a must-see destination in Oahu, draws visitors from dozens of nations every year. Visitors to this majestic setting can see for themselves the precise place where the Second World War started for the US on December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor is the central gathering place for the Second World War Valor in the nation’s Pacific National Monument.
Of the nine historic locations, five are in Pearl Harbor. Besides the USS Arizona Memorial, the others are the USS Utah Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, and parts of the Battleship Row and the Ford Island.