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"We are here today to witness the laying of the keel of the 41st battleship of the United States Navy. We want to make a world's record in length of
time between the laying of the keel and the launching of this ship. Judging by the records of the Navy yard in the past, with the Connecticut,
the Florida, and the New York, I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that number 39 should be ready to slide down these ways in
ten months from today."
With these words, Commander of the New York Navy Yard Captain Albert Gleaves began the keel laying of what was to become the USS Arizona, one of the
most well known battleships in US and World History. USS Arizona was one of two Pennsylvania class battleships. Their design was started in response to
the arms race started by the increased capabilities of the British battleship Dreadnought, launched in 1906. The ceremony in which she was laid down at
the New York Navy Yard took place on March 16, 1914 and was attended by Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, later president of the United
States. Also in attendance for the birth of the ship was three-year-old Henry Williams Jr. who was given the honor of placing the first bolt in place.
Williams would be present twenty-six years later as a Lieutenant in the US Navy on the day of Arizona's death.
She was launched on June 19, 1915 and christened "Arizona"
with a bottle filled with some of the first drops of water to flow
over the new Roosevelt Dam in the state of Arizona. At the time
this action was hotly debated; sailors feeling that christening
with water was a bad omen, but the move for prohibition was strong
at this time and the Navy aquiest to the wishes of the Govenor of
Following the launching, fitting out began on the empty hull. Guns
and turrets were installed and her machinery and engines were added.
A small superstructure and two large cage masts rose above her wood
decks. Ventilators to move air below decks were installed and ships
boats were embarked. The bright red primer she had been covered
with on the day of her launching was covered by Navy Gray paint.
Finally, the mightly USS Arizona was comisshioned on October 17,
1916, officially becoming a ship of the US Navy at 4:09PM . Her
crew begain to learn the systems of their new ship as they cleaned
up after the yard workers and took on provisions of food and ammunition.
She departed New York a month later for her shakedown trials off
the east coast, down to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Her 5-inch broadside
guns were fired first, on the 19th of December, and her mighty 14-inch
main battery let loose with their first volley on the 23rd.
Her new engines would plague her with trouble until a major overhaul
later in life; the turbine blades on one of the low-pressue turbines
had stripped coincidentally on December 7th and following the shakedown
she had a four-month overhaul back in New York to repair the engine.
Portions of the aft quarterdeck and two decks under that had to
be removed to allow the damaged engine to be removed and repaired.
The turbine was not back on ship until early March, at which point
Arizona was put back together, cleaned up, and attached to Battleship
The Pennsylvania class battleships were a new design, one fired
by oil rather than the more traditional coal. Because of this Arizona
and her crew never deployed to Europe during World War one. Instead,
they were kept off the eastern seaboard based out of Norfolk, Virginia.
Arizona served as a gunnery training ship and patroled the sea lanes
off the coast until the end of the war. One
The week after the Armstice was signed Arizona stood out of Hampton
Roads, Virgina, for a journey to Portland, England. Once there,
she served with other ships in her division as an escort for President
Woodrow Wilson during his journey to the Paris Peace Conference.
Following this she headed west, carrying 238 veterans home to New
York, arriving off the coast on the afternoon of Christmas day,
The next day, Arizona and crew passed in review before Secretary
of the Navy Josephus Daniels on the yacht Mayflower, moored just
off the shore from the Statue of Liberty. Following this there was
a short stay in New York before she sailed for her home port in
Virginia in January of the new year.
Arizona and her crew were stationed at Pearl Harbor
with the rest of the Pacific fleet following Fleet Problem XXI in
April of 1940.
On December 4th, while sailing in formation with USS
Nevada and West Virginia when a message came to the bridge, "Submarine
300 yards off our starboard bow and I have my 5-inch battery trained
on it. Request permission to fire, sir!” This message was
sent by Ensign Vernon Osterberg, a gunnery officer serving on one
of the 5" broadside guns on the main deck. Capt. Van Valkenburgh
denied permission to fire, and was killed three days later when
Arizona was sunk, so we will never know for sure if Osterberg did
actually see a submarine and what a legitimate sighting would have
Only two bombs hit Arizona that day. The first hit
the side of turret #4 and richocheted off into the deck next to
it, penetrating the deck and starting a small fire that was quickly
The second hit between the forward turrets on the
starboard side. It penetrated not only the main deck but two armored
decks below and started off a chain reaction in the ammunition stored
in teh forward end of the ship. Enormous heat and pressure built
up inside, setting off more ammunition and buckling the insides
of the ship. Within seconds of the hit, the pressure built up so
much that the hull of the Arizona began to deform; inflating outward
as if a balloon. Soon it was too much for her hull to take and the
sides of the forward end blew out.
An unearthly howl filled the air as a massive explosion
erupted from her hull. Flames burst from the shattered steel and
leapt hundreds of feet into the air. A thick blast of smoke shot
straight up from her smoke stack, leading to rumors that she had
been destroyed by a single bomb that had gone down her stack. Fuel
Oil tanks had been demolished by the explosion and hundreds of thousands
of oil from Arizona fed the conflagoration for days and threatened
to destroy other ships as well.
In that instant, nearly a thousand men died. More
qould quickly follow.
As of December 7th, 2000,
18 survivors of the attack who were on Arizona that day have been
interred with their shipmates. As much as we know, there are 963
men aboard Arizona.
15th Donald Starks July 14, 2000 Making the total
16th Lewis P. Robinson December 7th, 2000 (died in 1997 at age 78)
17th &18th (same ceremony)
James Lenox Lawson December 7th, 2001 died (June 15, 2001)
George Dewey Phraner Jr. December 7th, 2001 (died Sept. 7, 2001)