History of the USS Arizona Memorial

By: Alison

The USS Arizona memorial is one of the most popular memorials at Pearl Harbor, attracting hundreds of curious visitors who wish the see the sunken ship. The history of the ship and the memorial, however, is so much more.

Learn more about this brave battleship and the history of the USS Arizona memorial.

The ship

Builders first began working on the USS Arizona back in 1914. The first pieces were laid out in the New York Navy Yard where it was known as battleship 39. At that time, the U.S. was in a naval arms race with England that started back in 1906. Many believed the ship would be named the North Carolina after the home state of Josephus Daniels – Secretary of the Navy at that time – but upon its completion, it was called the Arizona instead.

On June 19, 1915, the USS Arizona officially launched, but its first few years saw a number of mechanical problems. In 1917, the ship finally joined the Atlantic fleet, though she was mainly used as a training ship during World War I. Though a proud ship, she relied on oil, which was more scarce than coal at the time. The other ships fighting in the British Grand Fleet used coal, and the USS Arizona stayed out of heavy combat.

After the war ended, the USS Arizona served as one of the escort ships bringing President Woodrow Wilson to Paris to the Paris Peace Conference.

Over the next few decades, the ship mainly carried cargo and passengers, and it was completely modernized. President Hoover used it to travel down to the Caribbean for a vacation. When an earthquake struck San Pedro while the USS Arizona was docked there, the ship provided shelter, first aid and communications for the people impacted by the earthquake. The ship even starred in a movie, Here Comes the Navy.

Dec. 7, 1941

In October 1941, the USS Oklahoma struck the USS Arizona with a torpedo while out doing a routine exercise. No one was seriously injured, but the ship had to be dry docked in Pearl Harbor while it was repaired.

USS Arizona

USS Arizona’s magazines explode

When the Japanese began their attack on Pearl Harbor just after 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona was hit almost immediately. At 8:10 a.m., an 800-kilogram bomb dropped right on the starboard side, and moments later, the forward magazine powder lit up, exploding and destroying that part of the ship. Two turrets fell 20 feet, and the forward superstructure and foremast came falling into the void left by the previous explosion. Fires broke out across the ship.

Many brave men and women fought to defend the ship and rescue those who were trapped as the ship went down, but in the end, most of the crew members – 1,177 total – died on the ship.

In the months that followed Pearl Harbor and for the duration of the war, the USS Arizona became a symbol to the soldiers and citizens. It symbolized what was being fought for – freedom and the lives of the crew members who tragically lost their lives at Pearl Harbor. Efforts were made to recover the bodies of those trapped on board, but over 900 of them were never found. Parts of the ship were also scrapped, but until the 1950s, the USS Arizona stayed at the bottom of the harbor.

The memorial

It wasn’t until 1958 that legislation came through the Hawaiian government to create a memorial in honor of the great ship. The Navy would not only be allowed to build the memorial, but they would also be able to accept donations. Perhaps the most famous donation came from rock ‘n’ roll legend himself, Elvis Presley. His 1961 concert helped raise a lot of funds to go to the project.

In 1960, construction on the memorial finally began, and on Memorial Day 1962, the USS Arizona memorial officially opened. Nearly two decades the later, a visitor’s center was built on the shore next to the wreck, and the National Park Service took over the management of the memorial from the Navy.


Today, hundreds of visitors come to Pearl Harbor every day to see the great ship and honor those who fought bravely for the U.S. Share with us, which part of the USS Arizona memorial are you most excited to see?

One thought on “History of the USS Arizona Memorial

  1. Lorraine Jones says:

    My father in law was stationed there during WWII. We have some original photos signed by Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Ring, Rear Admiral Spruance and one signed by Vice Admiral,Chief of Staff Pacific Ocean Area that I would like to find out who he is. In each of these photos they are thanking him for his service. Do you take any donations of photos or have any information on who would like or display these? We are coming to Honolulu in 2 weeks and would likened to bring them. Would appreciate any help indonating these.

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