Perhaps the most popular memorial at Pearl Harbor today is the USS Arizona Memorial. Positioned directly over the wreckage of the great ship, the Memorial stands as a testament to the heroism of the brave men who died in the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Today, thousands of visitors flock to Pearl Harbor to pay their respects and reflect on the sacrifice those men made on that terrible day.
Of course, the USS Arizona Memorial wasn’t built immediately after the attack. In fact, it wouldn’t be built for over 20 years, but thanks to one hard-working architect, the memorial stands proud today.
Keep reading to learn more about the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial and how it came to be.
The man behind the memorial was named Alfred Preis, an Austrian-born architect. Preis fled his homeland when Hitler invaded, and he and his bride settled in Honolulu.
What few people know is that Preis actually spent time in an internment camp. After the bombings on December 7, 1941, the U.S. government placed both Japanese, Austrian, and German immigrants and citizens in camps. Preis spent three months at the Sand Island Detainment Camp, but when he came out, surprisingly, he wasn’t bitter about his experience. He harbored no ill will towards his adopted government.
Several years later, the Navy came up with an idea for a memorial. They wanted something like a bridge, and it had to be able to hold at least 200 people at one time. Preis gave them just that. He filled his design with symbolism and reverence, and in the end, the Navy selected his bid.
Critics of the memorial’s design have likened it to a “squashed milk carton,” but the USS Arizona Memorial’s design is a little more complex than that. Preis had a clear idea in mind when he designed the memorial and everything about it serves a purpose.
The structure is about 184 feet long, and at both ends, it rises. The peaks are connected to a sag in the middle of the structure. This was no random design choice. It’s a metaphor for the United States at the time of World War II. On one side, the first peak represents the country’s pride before the war. In the middle, the sag represents the shock and depression the country faced just after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
One the other side of the structure, the second peak represents the might and power of the U.S. after the war. Together, all three components tell a story.
Within the structure, there are three main rooms. The Entry room marks the entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial.
The second room – the Assembly Hall – is perhaps the most symbolic part of the structure. The room has seven large windows on both walls at the end of the room that then go up and open to the ceiling. Seven refers to the date of the attack – December 7. Throughout the Hall, there are 21 windows total, which represents an ever-present 21-gun salute. The floor is mainly solid, but in one area a hole is cut through the memorial so people can look down at the wreckage below. Many drop flowers to show their respect for the dead.
Finally, the Shrine lists the names of all of the crewmen who lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attack. If someone in your family or a family friend died in the attack, you can find his name and honor him there.
For any historian or military family, visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is a moving experience. The construction of this incredible memorial allows people to pay their respects to the men lost that day in their own special ways.