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Seldom Asked Pearl Harbor FAQ’s

a small plane sitting on top of a tarmac

Is it true that oil still leaks from the USS Arizona?

Yes. Currently, the ship leaks 2-9 quarts each day.

What happened to the man who said, “Don’t worry about it…” when informed by radar technicians about a large number of planes heading toward O’ahu?

Lieutenant Kermit Tyler was an Army Air Forces pilot who was temporarily detailed to the Fort Shafter Information Office as Pursuit Officer. December 7 was his second day on the job and he had no idea what his duties were supposed to be. After voicing his concerns over lack of experience (and no understanding of radar or how to interpret it), he was told to report to duty at 4 a.m. Driving to work at 3:00 a.m., Lt. Tyler remembered a friend telling him a Honolulu radio station would broadcast all night when Army Air Force B-17 heavy bombers were flying in from the mainland to Hickam Field. This practice allowed pilots to return home to O’ahu and remain on course (unfortunately, the attacking Japanese planes did the same thing!) He turned on his car radio and found music playing so he knew a flight of American planes was en route. Arriving for duty, Lieutenant Tyler discovered this air plotters and administrative switchboard operators were already on duty. However, because it was Sunday, there were no other officers on duty, leaving only a small staff to complete the necessary shift work. At 7:00 a.m., the air plotters completed their respective shifts and made a hasty departure, leaving only Lt. Tyler and the switchboard operator. Ironically, only 15 minutes later, the brand new radar station at ‘Opana Point picked up a large flight of incoming planes from a north-to-northeast direction. Passing the information to Tyler, the young radar operators were told “don’t worry about it” because Tyler was expecting the incoming flight of B-17s, but could not tell them over the phone due to security concerns (the Japanese had a large spy network in the islands). This scenario proved to be a fatal mistake as 40 minutes later, bombs were raining down on Pearl Harbor and six other military installations on O’ahu. Following an investigation by a Navy Court of Inquiry in August of 1942, it was determined that Tyler had been assigned to the Information Center with little or no training, no supervision, and no staff in which to work with. Tyler was subsequently cleared on any wrong doing by the Board and no disciplinary actions were taken against him. Hollywood and a few authors have attempted to make Tyler out as a buffoon, but the military knew him to be an exceptional officer and he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1961.

Why were the crewmembers’ bodies never removed from the USS Arizona?
Approximately 15 minutes into the attack, a Japanese high-level bomber dropped a 1,760-pound (800 kg) naval projectile, that had been specially converted, onto the USS Arizona. The bomb penetrated the forward deck of the ship about 40 feet in from the bow. The resulting explosion ignited aviation fuel stores and the powder magazines for the 14-inch guns, instantly separating most of the bow from the ship and lifting the 33,000-ton vessel out of the water (there is no physical evidence remotely suggesting the USS Arizona was hit by torpedoes to dispel a popular myth). The explosion and subsequent fires killed 1,177 sailors and marines instantly. In addition, the entire front portion of the ship was left destroyed and the fires burned everything in its path. The fires continued for 2½ days, virtually cremating every man on board. Out of a crew of 1,511 only 334 survived. Due to the immense fire, only 107 crewmen were positively identified. The remaining 1,070 casualties were placed into three categories: (1) Bodies that were never found; (2) Some bodies were removed from the ship during salvage operations. These remains were severely dismembered or partially cremated, making identification impossible (DNA testing was unheard of in 1941). These bodies were placed in temporary mass graves, and later moved and reburied and marked as unknowns, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in 1949; (3) Bodies located in the aft (rear) portion of the ship. These remains could have been recovered, but were left in the ship due to their unidentifiable condition, indicating most crew members died from the concussion from the massive explosion.

What happened to the surviving crewmembers immediately after the explosion? How did they feel about surviving when so many were lost?

Most of the sailors and Marines who survived the sinking were already on duty when the bomb hit at 8:06 a.m. Men assigned to areas in the aft (rear) of the ship were immediately hurled from the upper decks of the battleship into the burning, oil-coated waters of the harbor. Some staggered through blankets of thick smoke and fire to the main deck and then jumped overboard. Also, just over 40 men assigned to the ship were not aboard the ship when it was attacked. In total, 319 sailors and 15 Marines (on or off the ship) were officially USS Arizona survivors. An anxiety haunted many of these survivors for years. “Why did I survive when so many others did not?,” is a question that plagued many. Family members of these men say that the biggest problem most of these men endured the rest of their lives was the tremendous guilt for surviving the destruction of their ship.

How are the bodies of the USS Arizona survivors buried on the ship?

Crewmembers who were assigned to the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941, have the right to have their cremated remains interred inside the barbette of gun turret four by National Park Service divers. If you were a crewmember before that infamous day, you have the right to have your ashes scattered over the ship. In both cases, the common thread is that these men were at one time in their navy careers assigned to the USS Arizona. This policy is strictly enforced by the USS Arizona Reunion and Survivor Association. (In addition, any Pearl Harbor survivor can have their ashes scattered over the place in the harbor where their ship was located during the attack). On April 12, 1982, the ashes of retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Stanley M. Teslow were interred, becoming the first USS Arizona survivor to return to his ship. By mid 2006, 28 surviving crewmembers have rejoined their shipmates in simple and private ceremonies, complete with a two-bell ceremony from the Fleet Reserve Association; a rifle salute from the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps; and a benediction with the echo of Taps being played across the harbor. The services are conducted inside the memorial and consist of an invocation, funeral ceremony, and a flag presentation to the family. Following the ceremony, the urn is carried from the memorial to the dock area and presented to divers, who swim the urn into the open barbette of gun turret number four and proceed to a large open “slot” that measures approximately 6″ x 5′. The urn is placed into this slot and slides into the ship.

Why was the USS Arizona not raised and put back into service as the other battleships were?

The USS Arizona was inspected in early 1942 and the US Navy determined it to be a total loss. Severe structural damage throughout the ship prevented it from being completely salvaged, although the USS Arizona continued to live in other ships as she became a prime source for spare parts. The inspection discovered that access to the front portion of the ship was completely blocked by debris and the great sheets of metal grotesquely twisted presented a very unsafe environment from which to work. The second deck had collapsed and virtually melted into the lower decks. It was also discovered that the number one and two gun turrets had collapsed more than 20 feet, leaving little doubt as to the severity of the USS Arizona’s wounds. Now at war, the U.S. Navy could spare little time with ships which could not be salvaged and turned their attention to the other battleships which could be put back into service. The USS Pennsylvania, USS Nevada, USS West Virginia, USS Tennessee, USS Maryland, and the USS California were raised and re-fitted in time to take revenge against the Japanese. The USS Arizona, The USS Oklahoma, and the old battleship USS Utah were never put back into service. Dismantling of the USS Arizona began in 1942 and continued throughout 1943. In June of 1942, the navy decided the lost ship’s hulk was not a hazard to navigation in the harbor and the ship would remain where she fell. Later in the war, the decision was made to leave the crewmembers with their ship, considering the men to be buried at sea. By the end of 1943, most of the ship visible from above the waterline had been removed. Among the useable items taken from the ship were guns, ammunition, machinery, the stern aircraft crane, conning tower and numerous other entities. The U.S. Army removed gun turrets three and four for use as coastal defense batteries (although by the time this project was finished in 1944, the war had moved into the western Pacific and Hawai’i was no longer at threat from invasion). The number two gun turret was scrapped, but the one gun turret remains intact and on the ship. In 1961, the (overhead) ceiling from the forward mess deck was removed, making way for the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial.

What eventually happened to the battleships Oklahoma and Utah?

There were over 180 ships and vessels in Pearl Harbor when the attack began. Twelve of these ships were sunk or severely damaged, with another nine also needing extensive repairs. However, all but three returned to service. Similar to the USS Arizona, the USS Utah lays where she fell on the north side of Ford Island. This decision was made in 1944 after one attempt at raising the ship had failed. The quiet decision was made to leave the bodies of 54 crewmen onboard, considering them buried at sea. The land-based USS Utah Memorial was dedicated on May 27, 1972. Visitors with military identification in their possession may visit the memorial. The USS Oklahoma was moored outboard the battleship USS Maryland and rapidly received seven to nine torpedo hits on the port (left) side. Capsizing roughly in 20 minutes after the attack began, over 400 men were trapped inside, of which only 32 were rescued by frantic civilian shipyard crews trying to cut through the keel (bottom) of the ship with pneumatic hammers and torches. Resting in the main channel of the harbor, a major salvage operation began in March of 1943. This massive undertaking involved the use of winches installed on Ford Island, which slowly rolled the ship back into place in an upright position. The ship was then pumped out and the remains of over 400 sailors and Marines were removed. The USS Oklahoma entered drydock on December 28, 1943, and the guns and superstructure were removed following the battleship’s formal decommissioning in September of 1944. Two years later, a California salvage company bought the ship for scrap and began towing the USS Oklahoma to Oakland in the spring of 1947. On May 17, the ship began listing to port and the tow lines had to be cut. The USS Oklahoma sank approximately 540 miles northeast of the Hawaiian Islands.

Information for these Pearl Harbor FAQ’s were collected from