Arizona’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community first began work on a monument for the USS Arizona after it was gifted a flag from the ship in 2007. The USS Arizona was destroyed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The community’s goal was to create a remarkable space at the Salt River that would forever pay tribute to, and recognize the individuals aboard the ship that day; sharing their stories and their sacrifice.
After more than 10 years of negotiations, the Salt River Indian Community became the recipient of a large part of the superstructure of the USS Arizona (BB-39), identified as the original Boat House, and planned to build a garden around it. The Boat House relic is the largest and only piece ever given to a tribal community. American Legion Post 114, the “Bushmasters,” was one group of predominantly Pima and Maricopa Native Americans who participated in the monument’s design and creation.
The native community wanted to design a space that would help people recognize the service of many Native Americans who have fought in WWII for the United States and continue to service all arms of the military to this day.
Once the Salt River Indian Community had secured the relic for the museum, it had to be transported from Honolulu, Hawaii to Arizona by the US Navy. “Before the relic left Hawaii, the Tribe sent over Tribal Elders, some who were Medicine Men, to perform a Blessing Ceremony for the Spirits of the Entombed sailors, and to ensure safe passage of the Relic and the Navy members escorting it,” says Ken Keating, Kovach’s manager on the project.
The Boat House weighed more than 800 pounds, and with the steel stand it is more than 2,000 pounds.
Like most designs, the new memorial needed to incorporate the elements that were already existing on the site. That is when Kovach and the project architects and contractors came together to develop the best design for the desired intent and budget. Great care had to be taken to honor history and create a public landmark that could be shared by all.
Upon completion, the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River spans the exact length and width of the USS Arizona. It is comprised of hundreds of pillars, formed to the exact size and shape of the ship. The Boat House relic is placed in the same approximate location as it would have existed on the ship before it was struck in an ammunition magazine by a Japanese torpedo bomber.
The monument’s raised and lit pillars represent the members of the crew who lost their lives in the attack, while lowered pillars represent the crew that survived the attack.
Other tributes at the site include benches with quotes from survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, detailed hand-drawn blueprints of the USS Arizona, wood planks from the deck of the Battleship and wind chimes with the names of those who were lost on that day.
The Kovach Factor
Kovach was proud to participate on this project, providing all metal scopes of work for the Boat House relic. The building envelope design included wall panels and soffits on the exterior. Kovach made the panels and trim first in .063 aluminum in light copper color.
Kovach also clad the base and pedestal for the relic in a charcoal-color painted aluminum. Important in the structure of this project was consideration for the hot climate in Arizona. It is critical that the building maintain its function and design for decades to come without cracking, fading or failing.
Part of what made this project special was partnering with the Native American community. “I still appreciate my cultural sensitivity banner provided to me by the tribe after I attended a class with them to learn their history and understand the historical importance of the materials and artifacts,” Keating says. “It was something I will never forget being involved in.”
James Hatch is VP of Preconstruction at Kovach.
Spotlight on the USS Arizona
On Dec. 6, 1941, the USS Arizona returned to its base at Pearl Harbor. The next morning, at approximately 7:55 a.m., Japan launched a surprise attack on the naval base. For nearly two hours, more than 350 Japanese aircraft—which included torpedo planes, bombers and fighters—dropped bombs on U.S. vessels. At approximately 8:10 a.m., the Arizona was struck by a 1,760-pound projectile, causing munitions and fuels to create a massive explosion that reportedly lifted the battleship out of the water. As it sank, the ship was struck by more bombs. While some 334 crew members survived, the death toll on the Arizona was 1,177.
The USS Arizona was among four battleships destroyed during the attack (the USS Oklahoma capsized). Along with various other damaged vessels, some 2,400 people were killed. On Dec. 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan and effectively entered WWII.
Built for the US Navy in the mid 1910s, the Pennsylvania-class battleship was named in honor of the 48th state’s recent admission into the union. The ship was the second and last of the Pennsylvania class of “super-dreadnought” battleships. Built at the naval yard in Brooklyn, New York, the Arizona was commissioned on Oct. 17, 1916, joining the USS Pennsylvania as the only two battleships of the Pennsylvania class.
At the time, the Arizona was one of the U.S. Navy’s most heavily armed vessels, boasting a dozen 14-inch guns and 22 5-inch guns. In addition, it was, at the time, the largest ship in the Navy’s fleet, with a length of 608 feet and a displacement of 31,400 tons.
During WWI, the Arizona monitored the eastern coastline. In December 1918, it was among the ships that escorted the USS George Washington, which transported President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. Over the next decades, the Arizona engaged in various exercises and training maneuvers, eventually undergoing a major overhaul in 1929–31. Faced with the United States’ possible entrance into WWII, naval officials ordered the Arizona to undergo additional improvements in 1940–41.
Today, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack, forever commemorating the events of that day.