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  • Arizona Contractor & Community

Pearl Harbor day: Arizona's WWII memorial full of symbolism

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day honors the Americans who perished during the Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The memorial, “Guns to Salute the Fallen," dedicated in 2013 at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol, honors those servicemen at Pearl Harbor and all World War II veterans.

The nation’s entry into World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor and ended in Tokyo Bay. Two battleships, the USS Arizona and USS Missouri, are indelibly linked to each event. Architect Rich Pawelko designed the privately funded memorial using artifacts from these ships.

Two large naval guns were placed near the USS Arizona’s anchor and mast, which were previously on display in the plaza. One was used on the USS Arizona, a 30,000-ton battleship commissioned in 1916 and sunk at Pearl Harbor. The second was used on the USS Missouri, a 57,000-ton battleship commissioned in 1944, on whose deck the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945.

The gun barrels are 405 inches apart, with each inch representing 1,000 American lives lost in World War II. Between the gun barrels are nine blue steel pillars, which represent the nine minutes it took the USS Arizona to sink. The pillars emerge from the ground and bow out of the top, like the hull of a ship. Stainless steel nameplates hang on the sides of the pillars, one for each of the 1,902 Arizonans who were killed in the war.

“In the sunlight when the wind blows, they appear like slight waves in water. It's just gorgeous," said Ken Bennett, former Arizona secretary of state, to Arizona Contractor & Community magazine in 2014.

With the USS Arizona sunk at Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri serving as a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, how were these guns acquired?

The 14-inch barrel from the USS Arizona was taken off the ship before the attack, according to Bennett, who was instrumental in creating the memorial. The Navy periodically rotated the gun barrels aboard the battleship, and the barrel had been stored at the Dahlgren Naval Support Facility in northern Virginia. St. Julien's Creek Naval Annex, near Portsmouth, Virginia, supplied the 16-inch barrel once used on the USS Missouri.

Many local Arizona contractors donated their services for the project.

During the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri, U.S. General MacArthur made the following statement; the words still ring true today. “It is my earnest hope—indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”

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