USS Arizona Memorial, May 31, 1962

Sunday Morning

In 1960, construction began on a sacred project west of Honolulu on the island of Oahu honoring the nearly 1200 men lost on the Pennsylvania-class battleship USS Arizona in the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941.

For years after World War II, it was unclear how to commemorate the site of the attack and was the focus of informal fundraising efforts by civilians, many in Hawaii.  Throughout the 1950s the Navy raised and lowered a flag daily from a mast constructed on a wooden platform above the submerged Arizona’s boat deck.  On March 15, 1958 military and civilian lobbying efforts paid off, however, and President Eisenhower and Congress authorized the creation of a formal memorial in Public Law 85-44. Interestingly, the law at first stipulated that the construction of the shrine could use no federal funds. This resulted at first in a patchwork of private contributions to reach the estimated $500,000 required.  The territory of Hawaii – celebrating its statehood in 1959 – contributed 10% of the total.

Alfred Preis, 1913-93

Together with a major fundraiser on Groucho Marx’s hit television show You Bet Your Life, monies were sufficient to select an architect (Austrian-born Alfred Preis) and a construction firm (Walker-Moody) to design and build a permanent structure.

Revell’s Arizona
1:426 scale, 1959

In 1961,  26-year-old Elvis Presley raised further funds with a concert at Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Center, and the Revell Model Company contributed $40,000 from the sale of scale plastic models of the Arizona built by Americans across the United States. Hawaii’s first senator, Daniel Inouye, persuaded Congress to provide the final third of funding in September 1961.

Four years after its completion in 1962, with a dedication by President Kennedy on Memorial Day, the United States added the Arizona Memorial to its National Register of Historic Places, now operated by the National Park Service.  Many didn’t care for the design of the memorial initially. Today, however, Mr. Preis’ 184-foot-long structure supported by 36 concrete columns driven into the silt of Pearl Harbor hovers over the sunken USS Arizona, and is visited by millions of Americans every year – including, most recently, President Donald Trump and the First Lady. There is little doubt what it means to those American sailors who pass through Hawaii on active duty today who pay silent tribute to those who fell in 1941 by “manning the rails” of ships which defend freedom around the world. As a result of Alfred Preis and the 1960s, Americans have the chance to visit a symbol of sacrifice and courage.

The Pacific War began in 1941 with the attack on Battleship Row and the Arizona, and ended in 1945 in Tokyo Bay on the heavy decks of the USS Missouri.  Since 1999, these storied ships have shared the special lagoon harbor of Oahu, Hawaii called “Pearl” which now also includes the submarine USS Bowfin, the spectacular National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.  The USS Arizona Memorial proudly joins the little-known but important list of architectural achievements of the 1960s era.

Inside the Memorial

Big Mo stands watch over the Arizona, Her Crew,
and Her Memorial, Oahu, HI (

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