Home / Capitol Insiders / Opposite of infamy: Arizona to dedicate its WWII memorial

Opposite of infamy: Arizona to dedicate its WWII memorial

Gun barrels from the USS Arizona (left) and the USS Missouri have taken their spots for display to the public in Wesley Bolin Plaza. The World War II artifacts will be unveiled to the public Dec. 7, ending a two-year effort by Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett to save the gun barrels from the scrap heap. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Gun barrels from the USS Arizona (left) and the USS Missouri have taken their spots for display to the public in Wesley Bolin Plaza. The World War II artifacts will be unveiled to the public Dec. 7, ending a two-year effort by Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett to save the gun barrels from the scrap heap. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

One day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, thrusting the United States into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt told the nation that Dec. 7, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy.”

Seventy-two years later, on Dec. 7, 2013, at an event that represents the opposite of infamy — appreciation, honor and respect — Arizona dedicates its World War II memorial at the east end of Wesley Bolin Plaza. It features two huge gun barrels resting side by side — one from the USS Arizona and the other from the USS Missouri, symbolically representing the beginning and the end of World War II.

In addition, the names of nearly 2,000 Arizona men and women from all military branches who died in the war are on display there, etched on 2×12-inch plates that hang from metal rods.

The star-spangled ceremony will include the arrival of 2,000 motorcyclists from the American Legion and other veterans’ groups, a flyover by a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, music by the 108th Army Band, and a Pearl Harbor address by Rear Admiral Scott Sanders.

Almost half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor were aboard the USS Arizona battleship, which was hit four times by Japanese bombers. Among the 1,177 crewmen killed were all 21 members of the Arizona’s band, known as U.S. Navy Band Unit 22.

Nine vertical pillars at the memorial represent the nine minutes that it took for the USS Arizona to sink to the bottom of Pearl Harbor after the first bombs hit.

The memorial, which is adjacent to the USS Arizona anchor and signal mast, was championed by Secretary of State Ken Bennett after hearing from John Thomas, a former attorney in the Arizona House of Representatives, about the rusting relics in East Coast surplus yards. When Bennett learned that these military treasures could be sold for scrap metal, he took action.

When Bennett began pursuing the acquisition of the USS Arizona gun barrel, the Navy at first offered one from the USS Missouri instead. Bennett continued to negotiate and eventually landed both, pointing out that the USS Arizona was a symbol of the beginning of the war and the USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed the surrender documents in a brief 20-minute ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945, signified the end.

The 14-inch Arizona gun was capable of lobbing shells 12 miles, while the 16-inch Missouri had a range of about 20 miles, according to Bennett. Together they weigh a total of approximately 210 tons, and were transported to Arizona by rail.

Ironically, the Arizona gun barrel wasn’t on the ship when Pearl Harbor was attacked. It had been removed for refurbishing. Later, it was placed aboard the USS Nevada and saw action in the 1944 D-Day assault at Normandy.

The USS Missouri was chosen as the surrender site by President Harry Truman, a nod to his home state. The Missouri fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, shelled the Japanese home islands, and later fought in the Korean War. Much later, the battleship provided fire support during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said no tax dollars were used to construct the World War II memorial. “We’ve raised more than $600,000 in cash and in-kind contributions (since 2011),” Roberts said.

The sponsors listed on the home page of website — www.gunstosalutethefallen.com — account for much of the total, plus more than 200 purchases of dedication bricks and memorial plaques, Roberts said. The bricks at the memorial site sell for $125 for a 4-by-8 inch memento, $500 for 8-by-8 inches and $1,000 for 12-by-12 inches, Roberts said.

“The concept that was developed displays the gun barrels to represent the beginning and end of the war with a steel structure in between presenting the names of those who perished,” Roberts said. “It’s believed these two visible bookends from the war will encourage people to reflect and admire the strength and courage it takes to defend a nation.”

Among the contributions was nearly $200,000 from the Veterans’ Donation Fund, according to Dave Hampton, public information officer and legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services.

Hundreds of World War II veterans and several survivors of Pearl Harbor are expected to attend the Dec. 7 ceremony.

“It’s going to be a wonderful event — a fitting tribute to World War II survivors,” Hampton said.

Overall, more than 1,000 people are likely to be on hand for the festivities. Roberts said there will be limited seating, mostly reserved for veterans and dignitaries. He recommends bringing folding chairs. Parking for the handicapped will be provided.

Invitees include the entire Arizona Congressional delegation, all statewide elected officials and all 90 members of the Legislature.


Three-year effort to bring the memorial to Wesley Bolin Plaza:

2011: Secretary of State Ken Bennett learns that the USS Arizona gun barrel is destined for the scrap heap. He receives permission from the Navy to permanently house gun barrels from the Arizona and USS Missouri on the state Capitol grounds.

November 2011: Representatives from the Phoenix Rotary 100, the Arizona Department of Administration, Geotechnical Testing & Inspections and Bennett examine the future site of the World War II memorial. Bennett subsequently arranges rail transportation for the big guns from the East Coast.

Dec. 7, 2012: Groundbreaking.


Notable Facts

USS Arizona gun barrel was not on the battleship when it sunk.

Crew members killed on board: 1,177.

American casualties in Pearl Harbor attack: 2,403 killed; 1,282 wounded.


World War II Dedication Program, Dec. 7

• 9:15 a.m. Arrival of motorcycle cavalcade. Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, retired U.S. Marine, salutes as motorcycles pass.

• 9:45 a.m. Secretary of State Ken Bennett formally opens ceremony.

• Laying of the wreaths, Arizona veterans service organizations and patriotic groups.

• Music by the 108th Army Band, “Remember Pearl Harbor.” SFC (USA Ret) Verno West, vocalist.

• Posting of the colors, POW/KIA/MIA Honor Guard.

• National Anthem, 108th Army Band, Candi Smith, vocalist.

• Pledge of Allegiance, Jack Daggett, Gold Star Father and Maria Martens, treasurer, National Gold Star Mothers of America.

• Invocation, Rev. Larry Monteverde.

• Pearl Harbor address, Rear Adm. Scott Sanders.

• Winners of the B-17 flight announced, Marshall Trimble.

• “Sentimental Journey” B-17 flyover.

• Moment of silence, recognition of veterans and active military.

• Keynote address, Ken Bennett.

• Firing Party, American Legion Post 29.

• “Taps,” SFC (USA Ret) Vernon West, bugler.

• Benediction, Robert Bohach, chaplain, United Arizona Veterans.

• Release of the white doves, Gene Stoltz, owner.

• 11:30 a.m. Music by the 108th Army Band

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