This year marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A one-of-a-kind exhibit dedicated to the USS Arizona battleship that was destroyed in a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 7, 1941, is getting a new look.
Opened in 2002, the exhibit is located in the USS Arizona Room at the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center.
Today, this study and work space is the home of one of the largest exhibits dedicated to the USS Arizona, where the lives of 1,177 people were lost. Many of the sailors on the USS Arizona were the same age as undergraduate students or even younger.
Special Collections archivist and the exhibit’s curator, Trent Purdy, wanted to re-organize the exhibit to provide more context to the historic materials for visitors.
Focusing on honoring the people who served on the ship was a priority.
“The importance of the collection is that the materials give real insight on what it was like to be a sailor on a battleship during the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s,” said Purdy. “You get to learn a lot about these people as individuals.”
The USS Arizona collection first started with the USS Arizona Bell, which was brought to the University of Arizona in 1946. In 1950, the flag from the ship was donated as well. The first Pearl Harbor Observance at the University of Arizona was in 1954. The collection was transferred to Special Collections in 1986 and currently holds 59 boxes of materials, including photographs, documents, and 3D objects documenting the history of the ship and her crew.
Included in the exhibit are display cases positioned chronologically to hold unique items from the ship from its christening in 1915 to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Each display case tells a story about what life was like on the ship with items ranging from the ship’s newspaper, pictures of the USS Arizona baseball team, documents, and scrapbooks.
One case displays a sword, which was donated in 2018 by Deo Maynard. Maynard’s father, Charles Miller, was a staff officer for the Service Force of the U.S. Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor. A U.S. Navy diver gave the sword to Miller after retrieving it before the ship was sealed. The sword was x-rayed and the original name of the sword was revealed to be a crew member on the ship. However, throughout time the name of the original owner has been lost.
The exhibit is accessible to everyone on campus, from students, faculty, and staff to the general public. Purdy pointed out that the collection’s location directly under the bell tower is also important. The bell tower is an attraction that brings people in and gets them more curious about what is held inside the room.
“Anytime I come in here there are a lot of students,” said Purdy.
“The goal is to help people see that there’s a really important piece of American history right here on campus.”
Browse our USS Arizona online exhibit and learn more.