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Deeper Meaning

Divers at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii
help to maintain USS Arizona and the
memory of those who served on the ship.

Twenty-five feet below the surface of Pearl Harbor in the shimmering oil-dappled water surrounding the USS Arizona, a beautiful school of rare golden ulua fish play amongst spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, and some of the largest puffer fish to be found in the Pacific Ocean.

diver

Above: Visitors peer into the water from the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. National Park Service

In Title: National Park Service divers are responsible for checking the condition of the Arizona, but they also are called to inter the remains of crew members who wished to rest below the water with their fellow shipmates. National Park Service

Below: Billy Crowe, national park ranger, was one of the divers for the Arizona. Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

Crowe

Marine life thrives in Pearl Harbor, designated by the Navy as a no-fishing zone because, in part, of what shares the water with these sea creatures – the cemetery for the 1,177 men who died on the Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.

Very few people have experienced this captivating underwater world. However, Scott Pawlowski sees it almost every week. He is a certified diver and one of four employees of the National Park Service whose jobs include the underwater maintenance and care of the Arizona.

“Diving the Arizona is certainly a spiritual experience,” said Pawlowski, chief of cultural and natural resources. “We all feel a deep commitment to the crew of the Arizona and all of the survivors of that horrible day.”

The greatest honor the divers experience, say those involved, is when they are called upon to inter the remains of Arizona crew members who survived the war, but whose last wish has been to be with their shipmates.

Over the years, the National Park Service has interred the ashes of 39 former sailors who served on the Arizona at the time of the attack. Pawlowski has participated in 12 services. Only seven of the ship's crew members remain alive.

Such ceremonies take place near the end of the day after the memorial has been closed to the public. Escorted by Navy and park service officials, family members pass the urn to the divers already in the water. They then swim to the area that had been gun turret four and simply insert the urn into an opening in the ship. This area was chosen because it allows the urn to go deeper into the ship where it is believed most of the crew members rest.

“The times I’ve placed the urn in the ship, it seems there is a current or draw from within that gently removes the urn from my hands and returns the sailor to his crew,” said park ranger and former diver Billy Crowe.

The underwater part of the service is broadcast via closed-circuit television to family members who can witness the placement of the remains.

At other times, the park service has conducted “live dives” broadcast via the park website, pointing out various aspects of the ship and its condition.

Much of what the dive team does is simply clean up debris, accidentally or carelessly dropped by the nearly 2 million people who visit the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument each year. Cell phones, sunglasses, hats, and more fill multiple trash bags.

The team also checks on the condition of the navigational buoys and the dock by which visitors access the memorial. They also document the condition of the Arizona itself.

“What most people don't realize is that the Arizona doesn't rest on the bottom of the harbor,” said Crowe. “It is blasted into the ocean floor by more than 20 feet from the force of the explosion.”

The Arizona burned for three days, consuming a good portion of nearly 1.4 million gallons of fuel on the ship when she sank. Navy salvage efforts later removed about 300,000 gallons. It is estimated about a half million gallons remain within the ship. The small oil slick on the water's surface above the Arizona, a phenomenon survivors have dubbed “black tears,” is a result of about two gallons that seeps out each day.

“We can’t see where the oil originates because it seeps through the silt in the ocean floor in a couple of places,” said Pawlowski. “When the light is right, we can see oil in some of the overhead compartments.”

During salvage operations conducted by the Navy during WWII and later in 1961 when the Arizona Memorial was under construction, parts of the hull were removed, exposing the galley and some living quarters. Pots on the stove and water pitchers on the table appear to have not been disturbed as the ship sank. In one restroom, divers can see a hair tonic bottle, unbroken but embedded in a steel wall from the force of the blast.

On a recent dive, Pawlowski and a colleague saw a shoe they had never noticed before. It appears to be a military issue piece of footwear from the period and is encrusted with sea life, indicating it has been underwater for decades. Why they had never seen it before is one of the mysteries of the Arizona.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

March/April 2016 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For details of upcoming live dive broadcasts, visit www.nps.gov/valr or watch an interment ceremony video

AAA Travel can assist you in planning a trip to the island of Oahu so you can see the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument for yourself. Visit AAA.com/travel.

 


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