New wall at USS Arizona Memorial dedicated on Veterans Day
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 12, 2014
USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL, Hawaii — The members of AMVETS consider themselves “keepers of the wall” for this principal World War II memorial in Pearl Harbor. And on Veterans Day, they showed everyone what that means.
That veterans’ service organization, along with the nonprofit Pacific Historic Parks, raised $350,000 to rebuild the marble wall of names listing the 1,177 sailors who died on the Arizona during the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack by the Japanese.
“We stand here today to rededicate this wall of remembrance on this Veterans Day here at Pearl Harbor knowing that collectively we have made a difference,” said John Mitchell, Jr., a past national commander who provided a brief keynote address for the ceremony.
The memorial’s Shrine Room is built over the sunken remains of the Arizona in the harbor and is accessible to visitors only by boat. The wall of names was last constructed in 1984, but weather and saltwater spray had badly eroded it.
“The Shrine Room wall represents the completion of the visitors’ expectations when they come to Pearl Harbor,” said Paul DePrey, superintendent with the National Park Service, which oversees the Arizona memorial, during the ceremony.
“When they get to see the names on the wall, that’s the most important part of their visit. They get a full impression of the tremendous sacrifices memorialized in this monument, and to care for this structure is one of the most meaningful aspects of this site for many rangers, for the volunteers and our partners.”
The Arizona sank after a massive explosion of its forward ammunition during the 1941 attack, and it burned for two days. Most of the bodies of sailors killed on the ship remained entombed in the ship, and it was designated a national memorial in 1962.
“Twelve hundred of our shipmates rest silently below, but a day doesn’t go by where their spirit doesn’t ring very loud in all of our hearts, especially we sailors here in Pearl Harbor,” Rear Adm. Rick Williams, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, told the ceremony.
“We do march to their drumbeat. We do get inspired by this very important memorial.”
The Shrine Room wall was built with about 140 marble panels mined in a Vermont quarry.
The new wall is the second of three phases of upgrades for the memorial. The first phase replaced skylights, railing, doors and exterior paint. The final phase will replace the terrazzo flooring.
“It’s kind of a once-in-a-career opportunity to be involved in something like this,” DePrey said after the ceremony. “The last time it was done was 30 years ago. Personally, it’s very meaningful for me to be involved in this project.”
He acknowledged that it was a big funding project for AMVETS to undertake.
“But they really pulled it together and were able to help us out in getting this taken care of,” he said. “The preservation of the wall and the memorial is an ongoing effort, but that’s part of the reason we’re here. If it was easy, then someone else would have done it.”
Mitchell said this was the largest project ever taken on by an AMVET national commander.
“To raise that amount of money in a relatively small group is amazing to me,” he said. “It was a joy to do.”