Written by Jessica Keller, archeologist for the NPS Submerged Resources Center
Photos by Brett Seymour, A/V Production Specialist / Deputy Chief for the NPS Submerged Resources Center
Preparing for the ROV
In preparation for arrival of the ROV next week, Deputy Chief of SRC Brett Seymour planned a number of dives to locate possible access points into the interior of the USS Arizona and to image the main deck through photography and videography. This imagery has multiple purposes, as it will be used by the park for interpretation, by archaeologists for artifact inventory and condition assessment, and by the upcoming documentary film to share these incredible images across the nation.
Over the past two days, Brett and I logged four dives and over 6 hours underwater. We focused mostly on the stern portion of the vessel for ROV access points, as the damage caused by the explosion collapsed a large section of deck structures near the bow. All of the stern hatches, vents, and cracks were inspected and we noted the presence of sediment buildup in a number of the potential access points. Sedimentation on the vessel fluctuates throughout the year. Currently, some areas of the main deck are experiencing low sediment buildup;however, hatches, vents, and other depressions accumulate sediment over time and do not experience the rate of change like the main deck.
The access points that are experiencing sediment build up will not be incorporated into the project. Though the documentary will conduct interior investigations, the main goal is to keep disturbance to the USS Arizona as minimal as possible. No sediment will be moved in order to gain access.
Investigating the Access Points
While we were investigating the access points, my imagination took off with each hatch we looked at. I thought about the bustle and movement of men climbing in and out of the hatch from the lower decks onto the beautiful teak wood main deck. In some locations, the teak hardwood decking remains in great condition: smooth, sleek, and complete. This deck was scuffed and trampled by the boots of the men hurrying across the deck to ready guns or throw the lines. It is heartbreaking to realize that the men of USS Arizona did not have the opportunity to fight back like they had been trained. A majority were killed with the explosion that ripped through the bow. Diving next to what is referred to as the blast peel, it is hard to imagine the cacophony that could take the hull of a battleship and peel it back like a banana. Steel, inches thick, is curled and shaped at odd angles leaving evidence of the combined force of the exploding high altitude bomb and the starboard ammunition locker.
The devastating explosion destroyed the bow section and cracked the keel of the boat. Shortly after the attack, Navy salvors removed as much as possible from USS Arizona and wanted to raise the ship to put it back in the fleet to fight. However, during their investigation, a crack on the port side of the ship was discovered. The crack went from the remains of the main deck down through the keel, or back bone of the ship leading it to be impractical for immediate salvage for the war effort.
The explosion and raging fire that burned after the attack destroyed roughly half of the fuel onboard. Burning oil in the water surrounding the ships injured survivors from the attack. Men, like survivor Don Stratton (who will be joining us on the project later this week), were thrown from the mid-ship area and were burned by the oil while being rescued. The force of the explosion and the intensity of the fire made the loss of life on USS Arizona the highest causality rate during the attack. 2,335 Americans died on December 7th and 1,177 of those men were on USS Arizona.
These numbers are brought to life when looking at the Memorial wall. The names of each person lost on that day are listed in order next to their brothers in arms and some next to their biological brothers. Twenty-three sets of brothers were lost on USS Arizona alone, including a set of twins. There was even a father and son who died together that day.
Under the USS Arizona Memorial
Inside the Memorial just before the Shrine Room, there is a viewing well that looks down onto the deck of the ship. As divers we passed underneath the viewing well as we transverse from the stern to the bow. During of one of the dives, Brett and I took a moment to surface and meet the eyes of Memorial visitors looking down upon us. Seeing visitors from this point of view left me with such an emotional and powerful feeling of pride, honor, and acknowledgement of this unique opportunity bestowed upon me to work and protect this sacred site. I shall never forget the feeling or the image of the American flag flying proudly behind the visitors looking down through the viewing well.