The Black Tears of the USS Arizona


By: Bruce Danforth

On December 7, 1941, the black tears of the USS Arizona began falling. Just before 8 a.m. that morning, the Japanese launched one of the most deadly modern attacks on American soil. Planes dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor, killing roughly 2,400 crewmen and injuring many others.

Of all the ships and planes damaged in the attack, no ship took more damage than the USS Arizona. The great ship lost 1,177 crewmen that day and sank to the bottom of the bay. Today, the gleaming white USS Arizona Memorial stretches across the spot where the ship rests.

If you look out the side of the memorial, you can see black spots of oil rising from the shipwreck. These are the black tears of the Arizona, as they’re famously called.

Read on to learn more about the black tears of the USS Arizona.

The Attack

The attack began just before 8 a.m. In the first wave, Japanese planes dropped bombs on Wheeler Army Airfield and Hickam Field, located just north of Pearl Harbor. U.S. airplanes were kept here, and the Japanese wanted to control the skies. They planned to bomb the airplanes first, to reduce the risk of an aerial counterattack.

At 8:10, the Japanese pilots dropped an armor-piercing bomb from a high altitude. The bomb landed directly on the forward deck of the USS Arizona with the force of over a million pounds of gunpowder. The explosion created a massive fireball that killed many of the crewmen aboard instantly.

Within nine minutes, the Arizona sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Many brave crewmen on board risked their lives to save others. Of all the ships and planes damaged that day, the Arizona suffered the highest number of casualties.

Aerial view of the Black Tears of Arizona

The Black Tears of the USS Arizona

Just one day before the attack, the Navy refueled the Arizona, giving her a full supply of oil. With nearly 1,500 gallons aboard, the ship would be ready to make a return voyage to the mainland towards the end of the month.

Of course, we know that never happened. When the Japanese bombed the ship, the fuel exploded and caused terrible fires that wreaked havoc across the ship. Eventually, the fires helped destroy and finally sink the Arizona. Not all of the oil, however, blew up with the ship.

Today these are the black tears of the USS Arizona, which Pearl Harbor visitors can still see today. Each day, the Arizona emits approximately nine quarts of oil into the harbor’s water. Although environmental groups and government agencies are concerned about the effects of the oil that dots the surface above the wreck, authorities are hesitant to act. For many visitors, the wreck is a memorial in its own right, serving as a grave for over 1,000 crewmen whose bodies were never recovered. For this reason, the National Parks Service hasn’t moved to stop the leakage just yet.

When you journey to Pearl Harbor, make sure you take a look at the black tears of the USS Arizona. They remind us of the great sacrifice those brave crewmen made that terrible day.

Faces in the BlackTears of Arizona

Do you think the U.S. government should try to stop the oil from leaking, even if it means disturbing the wrecked ship? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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