Friday, December 07, 2007

The sacred relics of Pearl Harbor

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii--On Dec. 7, 1941, just after 8 a.m., a 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb penetrated the decks of the USS Arizona, striking the forward magazine. The resulting explosion was volcanic as nearly a million pounds of gunpowder erupted into a fireball of death and destruction. The Arizona would sink in nine minutes, taking to the harbor floor 1,177 sailors and Marines. Just 337 crewmen aboard the Arizona survived the blast. The fire was so intense that it would burn for two days. By the end of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 21 U.S. ships had been sunk or damaged.

Sadly for the Arizona, after 229 bodies were recovered the Navy was forced to stop because of increasingly dangerous conditions. Not long after, a decision was made to leave the dreadnought where it lay and in the process create a lasting and powerful tribute to those who lost their lives and remain entombed in the ship. When the Arizona sank it also took well over a million gallons of fuel to the bottom. Now, at a rate of two quarts a day, tiny oil droplets, known as "black tears," rise to the surface every 20 seconds--and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Not all of the wreckage is at the memorial on Ford Island. "After the bombing, the USS Arizona had much of the superstructure and metal above the water line cut away and sent to the mainland, either for use on other ships or designated for scrap," explains Agnes Tauyan, deputy director in the public affairs office of the commander, Navy Region Hawaii. Still later, additional pieces of wreckage, several tons of the Arizona, were removed from the ship during the construction of the memorial and transported to a spot across the channel from Ford Island, where they have been ever since, holding a silent and lonely vigil against time and the elements.

Daniel Martinez, National Park Service historian who has worked at the Arizona Memorial since 1985 and is an expert on the bombing of Pearl Harbor, says, "Someone, and we don't know who, since documentation does not exist, realized the importance of this wreckage of the martyred ship and put it in a place where it would be preserved." The specific location of what Ms. Tauyan calls the "sacred relics" is a closely guarded secret. The Navy will acknowledge for the record only that sections of the Arizona are on Waipio Peninsula, strictly off limits to the public and safely guarded in a storage area on a military reservation, but it granted access for this article to further tell the story of the famed battleship and its continuing contribution today.

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