Submerged Cultural Resources Study:
USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark
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Chapter VI: SIGNIFICANCE: Memorials, Myths And Symbols (continued)

The USS ARIZONA as a Naval Memorial

The concept of naval memorials is an ancient one. Naval memorials can be prizes of war: the flags, weapons or vessels of the enemy. War prizes, for the most part, have focused on the preservation of vessels as trophies. Octavian, following his victory over Antony and Cleopatra's fleet at Actium, erected a memorial on the hill overlooking the battle site adorned with the bronze rams from the prows of dozens of captured ships (Murray and Petsas 1988). Just as the Romans paraded captured generals and troops through the streets of Rome, other victors have exhibited the captured vessels of an enemy.

In the United States, German U-boats taken as reparation after the First World War were displayed along the Atlantic seaboard. The Japanese midget submarine HA. 19, captured at Pearl Harbor, was toured around the country on a drive to sell war bonds. The German submarine U-505, captured at sea by a Naval task force in the first open seas capture of a prize by the Navy since the War of 1812, toured ports selling war bonds after VE day. HA. 19 was exhibited as a trophy of war at the U.S. Submarine Base, Key West for many years, as was the case with other midget Japanese and German submarines at Pearl Harbor, the sub base at Groton, Conn. and the Washington Navy Yard. U-505, dedicated as a memorial to servicemen who lost their lives to U-Boat attack in the Battle of the Atlantic, is a Naval memorial displayed at Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and has been designated a NHL.

Other naval memorials of a similar type exist in the world. The Peruvian monitor HUASCAR, captured by Chile in the War of the Pacific in 1879, is now a memorial after years of use by the Chilean Navy. A more recent prize, the USS PUEBLO, is displayed by its North Korean captors. For the most part, though, captured enemy vessels are not made into memorials -- most are turned against their former owners and are integrated into the victor's fighting force. This practice was commonly followed by the Royal Navy and almost every other naval power well into modern times. During the American Civil War, both Union and Confederate fleets were augmented by captured vessels.

The more common form of naval memorial is the preservation of portions of a ship or the entire vessel. This happens when the ship has served long and well, fought victoriously in a particular battle or battles, or is perceived as being a ship that enhanced the national cause. The British preserved Drake's privateer GOLDEN HINDE after his epic 1579 circumnavigation and "singeing" of Philip of Spain's beard through attacks on Spanish shipping in the Pacific. The most famous British naval memorial of all is HMS VICTORY, Lord Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, the epic sea battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Since the 1920s, the VICTORY's hull has been displayed in drydock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Its American counterpart is the USS CONSTITUTION, "Old Ironsides," preserved for its role in the War of 1812. At Yokosuka, Japan a museum displays the cruiser MIKASA, flagship of Admiral Togo when he smashed the Russian fleet at Tsushima in the decisive sea battle of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Another famous American Naval memorial is the cruiser USS OLYMPIA, flagship of Commander George Dewey when he sank the Spanish fleet, without loss of American life, at the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898. The spot where the admiral stood and supposedly said, "You may fire when ready, Gridley," is marked with footsteps of engraved brass. In the Soviet Union, the cruiser AURORA, whose guns heralded the attack on the Winter Palace during the Bolshevik revolution, is displayed at Leningrad (then Petrograd) (Brouwer 1978).

Currently more than 40 naval vessels rest on display in the United States as war memorials. The majority are World War II vessels. The status of "Naval memorial" has not always guaranteed the continued display or preservation of many vessels. The battleship USS OREGON, contemporary of the USS OLYMPIA, was taken from display at Portland, Oregon, partially scrapped during World War II, turned into an ammunition hulk, and then completely scrapped after the war (Sternlicht 1977). The USS HARTFORD, Admiral David G. Farragut's flagship from the battle of Mobile Bay where he defiantly damned the torpedoes, sank from old age and was broken up by the Navy in the late 1950s. Most recently the USS MISSOURI, the battleship on whose decks the Japanese surrender was signed, was taken off display at Bremerton, Washington, refitted and returned to active duty. Others have been resurrected from the bottom to serve as memorials. The brig NIAGARA, Oliver H. Perry's flagship from the Battle of Lake Erie, was raised in 1913 during the battle's centennial, rebuilt and displayed afloat and ashore until recently. The rotted hulk was rebuilt and relaunched in 1988.

Considerable attention has also been paid to the ironclad USS MONITOR, similar in many ways to the ARIZONA. Both wrecks fit the assessment of significance offered by Dr. Larry Tise for the MONITOR, which he described as "a part of the American mind, its bare mention conjuring up images of what we are as a people, of our experience as a people, and of some of the major events and motifs of our history" (Tise 1978:13). The MONITOR's remains, located by archeological survey in 1973, have been the focus of debate for more than a decade - debate over what to do with the ironclad hinges, not on managing the vessel as a shipwreck, but on full or partial recovery. The MONITOR was the first shipwreck designated a National Historic Landmark in the United States, the ARIZONA was the second.

The two wrecks were designated for the same basic reason -- their mythic quality. Myths are stories, recurring themes or archetypal characters that appeal to people's consciousness by embodying cultural ideas or expressing deep, commonly felt emotions. The MONITOR became part of American myth and culture because of its much-publicized battle with CSS VIRGINIA (MERRIMACK) at Hampton Roads during the Civil War. "MONITOR's impact is reflected in the popular culture of its era; cartoons, poems and other forms of social expression of the 1860s are replete with MONITOR references. A hero-cult was attached to the vessel's designers and officers, and MONITOR instilled a sense of American technological know-how and might" (Delgado 1988:1). The ARIZONA is also mythic. The devastation wrought within a matter of minutes to ARIZONA epitomizes the entire attack on Pearl Harbor. The ARIZONA's image was the one most recalled during the national desire to "Remember Pearl Harbor" while the war raged. The loss of its crew and the heroism of the living resulted in a more modern hero cult as seen in the unique social status and veneration of Pearl Harbor survivors and the Navy's own response to ARIZONA's "twisted hulk." Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd Jr., whose father died aboard the ARIZONA, doubtless spoke for many others in the Navy when he stated that during the war ARIZONA served as a "monument to valor," a grim reminder to active units of the fleet as they left Pearl Harbor that their mission was always to "seek out and destroy the enemy" (Friedman et al 1984:n.p).

memorial to Battleship Maine
Figure 6.2. The Battleship MAINE disaster is memorialized at Arlington National Cemetery.
(NPS photo by J. Candace Clifford)

The ARIZONA is the nation's only major naval memorial vessel associated with disaster. Although destruction of the USS MAINE propelled the nation into war in the last century, only pieces are displayed (the ship's foremast marks the graves of the ship's crew at Arlington; (Figure 6-2) the MAINE's shattered hulk was retrieved from La Habana Harbor and sunk in deep water in the early 20th century). Other sunken warships lie unmarked in the ocean, with plaques ashore, commemorating their memory, crews and loss. The USS ARIZONA serves as a naval memorial in large part because of its accessibility. Admiral Kidd noted that the battleship is the only warship lost during World War II whose wreckage still remained in sight when the war was over; all the others went down in deep water and "their bones rest in unknown lands beneath the sea" (Friedman et al. n.p). The UTAH also remained in sight at war's end, but not in the public eye. The ARIZONA's extraordinary sacrifice, its unique national exposure, and its continued visibility after the war made it a unique naval memorial.

Last Updated: 27-Apr-2001