Alfred Preis Architect, USS Arizona Memorial

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. 68 years ago this morning the Japanese attacked the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II. Rather than post something about the attack, the second world war, or any number of other things; I have decided to talk a bit about an architectural masterpiece, the memorial for the USS Arizona.

The USS Arizona Memorial, located at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by Japanese imperial forces and commemorates the events of that day. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the island of Oʻahu was ultimately the final action that led to United States involvement in World War II at the end of 1941.

The memorial, which was dedicated in 1962 is visited by more than one million people annually. The memorial spans the sunken hull of the battleship Arizona, without touching it. The memorial visually floats above the water like an out stretched white sail hovering above the waters of the harbor. The memorial was designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis, his design set out to create a bridge that would float above the battleship with room for approximately 200 visitors at a time.

The 184-footlong structure has two peaks at each end connected by a sag in the center of the structure. It represents the height of American pride before the war, the sudden depression of the nation after the attack on December 7th, and the rise of American power to new heights after the war. Critics initially called the design a “squashed milk carton”.

Preis explains the architecture of the memorial as this, “Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory … The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses … his innermost feelings.”

There are three main parts to the national memorial: an entry hall, assembly room, and shrine. The central assembly room features seven large open windows on either wall that extend up and through the ceiling, to commemorate the date of the attack. The total number of windows is 21, this symbolically represents a 21 gun salute or 21 Marines standing at eternal parade rest over the tomb of the fallen sailors. The memorial also contains an opening in the floor overlooking the sunken decks of the Arizona. It is from this opening that visitors come to pay their respects by dropping flowers in honor of the fallen sailors. In the past, leis were tossed in the water, but because string from leis poses a hazard to sea-life, leis are placed on guard rails located in front of the names of the fallen. The shrine at the far end is a marble wall that bears the names of all those killed on the USS Arizona, protected behind velvet ropes. One of the three 19,585 pound anchors of the Arizona, and one of the ships bells are displayed at the entrance of the visitor center. As a special tribute to the ship and her lost crew, the United States flag flies from the flagpole, As a special tribute to the ship and her lost crew, the United States flag flies from the flagpole which was attached to the severed mainmast of the sunken battleship, now located on the side of the memorial itself. The USS Arizona is no longer in commission. She is, however, an active U.S. military cemetery.

To this day, oil can still be seen rising from the wreckage to the surface of the water. The oil seeping is sometimes referred to as “the tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”

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