History Wars World War II

44 USS Arizona survivors are interred with their shipmates at Pearl Harbor

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The USS Arizona Memorial sits atop the battleship's sunken hull (Miguel Ortiz)

On December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft struck and sunk the USS Arizona (BB-39) during a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. An armor-piercing bomb penetrated the ship’s deck and detonated in a magazine. The resulting explosion ripped Arizona apart and sent her to the bottom of the harbor. In total, 1,177 of her crewmen perished that day. Unlike many of the ships sunk in the surprise attack, Arizona was too badly damaged to be raised and she was left where she sunk.

On May 30, 1962, a memorial was dedicated above the Arizona‘s wreck to mark the resting place of the 1,102 sailors and Marines whose bodies were not recovered and remain interred aboard. Accessible only by boat, the memorial straddles the ship’s hull without touching it. As a gravesite, Arizona is allowed to rest untouched. In fact, oil leaking from the ship can still be seen pooling on the water’s surface. USS Arizona was declared a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1989.

National Park Service divers inter the ashes of MM1c Estelle Birdsell aboard USS Arizona on December 5, 2017 (National Park Service)

In spite of the enormous loss of life on December 7, 334 crewmembers survived the sinking of the Arizona. Some of these survivors elected to be interred aboard the ship with their fallen comrades upon their death. While Pearl Harbor survivors may have their ashes scattered over the harbor, only Arizona survivors may be interred in the famous ship. Survivors of USS Utah, the other ship still sunk at Pearl Harbor, can similarly be interred aboard their ship.

Sailors and NPS rangers take part in the interment ceremony of S1c Charles W. Guerin Jr. at the USS Arizona Memorial on December 7, 2008 (U.S. Navy)

The memorial service and interment of deceased Arizona survivors takes place on the memorial itself. A joint effort between the National Park Service and the Navy, the memorial and interment include a committal service, an underwater interment, a rifle salute, the playing of “Taps,” and the presentation of a flag and plaque. Divers place the urns of the deceased in the well of the barbette that once held Arizona‘s number four gun turret. “It’s a large hole and we place the urn through and then you can kind of feel it release,” an NPS diver is quoted as saying on an informational panel at the memorial. “I tell the family, when I feel that pull, it’s the ship accepting one of its own back.”

Army 7th Dive Detachment divers use WWII-era equipment to inter FC2c Lauren F. Bruner aboard USS Arizona on December 7, 2019 (U.S. Army)

In 1982, GM2c Stanley M. Teslow became the first Arizona survivor to be interred. In total, 44 survivors have been interred with the most recent being FC2c Lauren F. Bruner in 2019.