It’s been over 75 years since a US Navy ship named USS Arizona or USS Oklahoma was in service. After being destroyed during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, the two battleships that bore those names were never returned to service. USS Arizona (BB-39) still sits on the bottom of Pearl Harbor where she sank, and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was forever lost to the depths while being towed to the US west coast. Since then, the names Arizona and Oklahoma have been a symbol of the devastation and a remembrance of the 2,403 Americans who died that morning. The unofficial retirement of those names is about to end, however, as the United States Navy is planning on naming two new Virginia-class submarines after them. After nearly 80 years, there will once again be new ships USS Arizona (SSN-803) and USS Oklahoma (SSN-802).
Announcement of New Ships Arizona and Oklahoma
Announced at the end of 2019 by acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, the naming of the two planned submarines was met with some surprise, though the general reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Naming the two new submarines after the only battleships that weren’t able to be repaired and returned to service in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor is yet another way to honor the 1,606 sailors and Marines who died on the two battleships.
“It is my fondest wish that the citizens of the great states of Arizona and Oklahoma will understand and celebrate our Navy’s desire to memorialize the 1,177 heroes who perished in USS Arizona and the 429 more in USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941,” Modly said in his statement.
The new ships Arizona and Oklahoma are slated to be built by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding.
Along with the return of the historic names Arizona and Oklahoma, the Navy has ordered an additional seven Block V nuclear fast attack submarines. The construction will include acoustic superiority enhancements and eight will feature the signature Virginia Payload Module to include 28 Tomahawk missile tubes. A tenth Virginia-class submarine, featuring all upgrades, may be ordered at a later date bringing the total number of Block V submarines to ten.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) responded enthusiastically to the news, stating, “The future USS Oklahoma will serve our country, protecting our shores and allies while also honoring the contributions of all Oklahomans to our nation.”
Commemorating the Loss of the Battleships
On December 7, 1941, the battleship USS Arizona was the first to come under attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy’s bombers and fighter planes. Damaged by multiple bombs, one pierced her armored deck and caused a powder magazine to explode. The devastating blast sank the battleship almost immediately, and her wreckage remains where it sank in 1941. Today, the USS Arizona Memorial stands directly over the remains of the fallen battleship as the centerpiece of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Shortly after the explosion of Arizona, USS Oklahoma was struck by eight torpedoes, causing her to roll until her masts hit the bottom of the harbor. More than 300 of Oklahoma’s crew members who died that morning were unidentifiable and buried in mass graves on Oahu. In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency initiated a program to identify those men. As of the beginning of 2020, more than half of those sailors have been identified and their remains returned home to their families or re-interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.