Trove of USS Arizona memorabilia donated to University Libraries

Lowell and Wendy Franklin peruse the materials they donated with associate librarian Trent Purdy, curator of the USS Arizona Collection

Lowell and Wendy Franklin peruse the materials they donated to University of Arizona Special Collections with associate librarian Trent Purdy, curator of the USS Arizona Collection.

Chris Richards/University Communications

The University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections this month received a sizable trove of material related to the USS Arizona from the family of a sailor who served aboard the battleship prior to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Lowell Franklin holds a photo of his father, Arthur

Lowell Franklin holds a photo of his father, Arthur, who kept a collection of memorabilia from his time in the the U.S. Navy, which included a stint aboard the USS Arizona prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Chris Richards/University Communications

Lowell and Wendy Franklin of Hobart, Wisconsin, discovered the mementos earlier this year in a box with the name of Lowell's father, Arthur, on it that they had stored in their basement since receiving it from the estate of Lowell's late older brother. Inside, they found dozens of items: photos, scrapbooks, handbooks and other official documents, plus official and personal correspondence, newsletters and other memorabilia, such as the ship's newspaper, menus and event programs.

"I heard him downstairs sniffling one day. When I went to check on him, he had all these wonderful items spread out," Wendy Franklin said. "We realized the significance of it all and Lowell decided to donate it to somebody who could preserve it and share it with others."

An 'exceptional' archive

Arthur Franklin joined the U.S. Navy in 1937 and served in the print shop aboard first the cruiser USS New Orleans, and then the Arizona until he was honorably discharged in the summer of 1941. He re-enlisted in the Navy following the surprise attack on the U.S. and served the duration of the war in Navy print shops in San Diego and Long Beach, California, where Lowell and his older brother Lynn were born.

"Almost all of the documents were new to me," said Lowell Franklin. "It makes me feel closer to my dad, to understand how he must have felt about serving his country and about how he must've felt after Pearl Harbor."

Associate librarian Trent Purdy calls the donation "exceptional," noting it includes several unique items, among them Arthur Franklin's liberty card – which allowed sailors to come and go from the ship while in port – and his copy of the "Normal Word Book," a text he used as a reference and style guide in his work as a printer.

Arthur Franklin's liberty and "shellback" cards

Arthur Franklin's liberty card, issued to off-duty sailors authorizing them to be ashore, and his "shellback" card, which indicated he had crossed the equator while aboard the USS Arizona.

Chris Richards/University Communications

"The liberty card is the real star of all this," Purdy said. "We didn't have one of those before. In all of the donations we've received over the years, I'd never seen one. They're pretty fragile and just don't hold up."

Among the most poignant pieces in the Franklins' donation are small slips of paper Arthur kept with handwritten lists of the names of former Arizona shipmates who died on Dec. 7, 1941. Letters between Arthur and his brother Robert, who served in the war's European Theater, share details of their enlistments and their desire to see the conflict through to a victorious conclusion.

"He didn't ever mention that he'd kept any of these mementos," said Lowell Franklin, who served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve during the Vietnam War. "He talked about his service some, but we had no idea he had all of this. Clearly it meant a lot to him. He wrote their names down because he wanted to remember them."

The Franklins initially considered donating the material to the U.S. Navy, but after some research they discovered the university's collection and they opted to send it all to Tucson, where they have family and where it could be seen by more people. They also felt it was fitting to make the donation to an institution in Arizona because Arthur spent part of his youth in Prescott.

"It feels like these materials are coming home," Wendy Franklin said. "Hawaii is so far away and hard to visit. We felt like more people would be able to see all of this if it was stored on the mainland. After we spoke with Trent, and he was so excited, that settled it."

A sizable – and growing – collection

The USS Arizona was one of 21 ships attacked, sunk or significantly damaged in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Much of the ship remains at the bottom of the harbor with 1,177 sailors entombed in the wreckage. A memorial on the University of Arizona Mall provides a physical outline of the ship and commemorates the sailors who died. The university's Student Union Memorial Center is also a living memorial to the USS Arizona.

University Libraries holds one of the largest collections of USS Arizona materials in the world, with more than 100 boxes of material containing hundreds of thousands of materials, including photographs, newspapers, correspondence and other documents that help tell the story of the ship and the men who served on it. The collection even includes a steel girder salvaged from a scrapyard, much like the battleship's bell, which has held a place of honor at the university for decades – it now hangs in the Student Union clock tower.

"Our collection is really about what life was like on board the ship, and its culture," Purdy said. "And this provides us with even more insight on what that community was like and how these sailors existed day-to-day in this floating city, with close quarters and the reality that at any moment you could go to war."

The collection is frequently used by historians and other scholars looking for primary sources or to authenticate other sources. Purdy receives several donations to the USS Arizona collection each year, but rarely anything as extensive as this gift.

"It's so wonderful that Wendy and Lowell were able to come out. It's very rare that I get to meet our donors and establish a personal connection with them," Purdy said. "It really reminds you that these aren't just objects, they're memories of real people."

A place for preservation

The Franklins traveled to Tucson first by train, riding Amtrak to Grand Junction, Colorado, where they rented a car and then slowly picked their way through some of the Four Corners area's signature attractions, including Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. Then the same major storm system that inundated much of California this month forced them to skip a planned visit to the Grand Canyon and re-route through Las Vegas and Lake Havasu City before heading for Southern Arizona.

A tattered scrapbook of photo

Arthur Franklin kept scrapbooks documenting not only his time on the USS Arizona, but also the fate of the battleship at Pearl Harbor.

Chris Richards/University Communications

On Wednesday, Purdy and the Franklins held a public viewing of the donated items in the USS Arizona Lounge in the Student Union Memorial Center, where they met members of the university's Navy ROTC unit, which holds Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies every Dec. 7. Cmdr. Angela Gonzales, the unit's executive officer, said she felt a connection to Arthur Franklin after seeing the donated materials.

"It’s remarkable how enduring some parts of Navy culture are," Gonzales said. "I have collected many of these same items during my service. My shellback certificate, which a sailor receives after crossing the equator for the first time, looks a lot like his certificate. It’s a very significant milestone for sailors and Marines and a shared experience."

"Both Lowell and I are overwhelmed with the wonderful reception we have received," Wendy Franklin said. "We knew these items were important and are grateful to have the chance to share them with people who truly appreciate them and can help preserve them for others."

With the new material now safely in the collection, Purdy will begin the process of creating digital copies of many items and adding those to the Special Collections online database of the USS Arizona Collection.