Archaeologist Delgado Reflects on USS Arizona
The battleship and others like it "were the ultimate expression of who we were," according to the former head of the National Park Service maritime preservation program. His talk was part of a series of events on campus this fall in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Maritime archaeologist James Delgado, who has made a career of examining prominent shipwrecks up close, can't forget his dive at the USS Arizona almost 30 years ago.
Delgado, then head of the National Park Service maritime preservation program, oversaw the effort to study more than 140 ships for designation as national landmarks — including the Arizona, the battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, resulting in the loss of 1,177 American lives.
"It's one thing to see a newsreel, to look at photos or to read an account," Delgado said Tuesday evening in a talk on the University of Arizona campus. "But when you drop into the water, the stories become reality.
"I felt a sense of dread, and suddenly, there it was," he said. "It took willpower to look in there. There's something about swimming up to a ship where you know something horrible has happened. I said to myself, 'I'm here. Please allow me to do the best I can to tell your story.'"
Delgado, 58, has been telling the USS Arizona's story ever since. As he spoke to a large crowd at University Libraries' Special Collections, which recently opened an extensive exhibit devoted to the ship and its crew, it became apparent that Delgado's initial horror has given way to an abiding reverence for those who made the ultimate sacrifice aboard the vessel that was the pride of the American fleet in the Pacific.
For the past five years, Delgado has been director of maritime heritage in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His earlier work also includes investigations of the Titanic, the USS Monitor (Civil War era) and the USS Utah (also sunk at Pearl Harbor). He is the co-author of "Pearl Harbor Recalled" and "USS Arizona," and for six years he hosted a National Geographic documentary series, "The Sea Hunters."
"In many ways, the Arizona set me on a path in my career," said Delgado, who has degrees in U.S. history, maritime history and underwater research, and archaeology. "These ships were the ultimate expression of who we were. I go to touch the past, and I come back to bear witness to it. There comes a point where your job is to pass it on to the next generation."
In his talk, Delgado painted a vivid picture of the attack on the Arizona, reviewing the context of the Japanese air raid that turned the ship into what he described as "a twisted garden of steel." The 25-year-old ship was hit only 10 minutes into the bombing, which began at 7:55 a.m.
Isoruku Yamamoto, the marshal admiral who was commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, had achieved the desired surprise of U.S. forces.
"Yamamoto never said he had awakened a sleeping giant — that's Hollywood — but it's pretty clear that he had," Delgado said. "A nation was roused to arms in a way that we would not see again until 15 years ago (the 9/11 attacks)."
In 1962, a decision was made to build a memorial straddling the wreckage of the USS Arizona, and that site will be the focal point this year of many events observing the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
In 1983, a series of dives began with the purpose of measuring and mapping the ship. Delgado said a recent dive observed military uniforms still hanging in the decaying hull of the ship, which remains submerged in the harbor's shallow waters, visibly oozing oil after all these years.
Although concerns about the eventual collapse of its remains are well-founded, Delgado said, the USS Arizona is "an immortal battleship, among the ranks of the Monitor and the Maine." He said advances in laser technology have been "raising the ship virtually," producing 3-D maps, and this will help with its archival preservation.
"It's the story of us, really," he said of the Arizona. "It's the story of people rendered exceptional by extraordinary circumstances. ... This great generation stood up and did their job, decisively ending the forces of fascism and bringing peace."
What'The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona' exhibit of artifacts
WhereSpecial Collections, 1510 E. University Blvd.
WhenThrough Dec. 23 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed weekends and holidays)
UA events observing the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor:
Saturday: USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner and other World War II veterans to be honored at UA-Hawaii football game. At 7:45 p.m., Arizona Stadium.
Oct. 28: Opening of two art exhibits focusing on the Navajo Code Talkers. At Worlds of Words, College of Education.
Nov. 3: Talk by Susan Crane, associate professor of history, and Steve Hussman of Special Collections on the important of memorials. At 6 p.m., Special Collections.
Nov. 7: 1970s film "Tora! Tora! Tora!," recounting what led to the Pearl Harbor attack. At 6 p.m., Gallagher Theater, Student Union Memorial Center. Discussion to follow.
Nov. 11: UA men's basketball vs. Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic. At 5 p.m., Honolulu, Hawaii (ESPN telecast).
Nov. 14: 2006 film "Flags of Our Fathers," detailing the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima and its aftermath. At 6 p.m., Gallagher Theater, Student Union Memorial Center. Discussion to follow.
Nov. 21: 2006 film "Letters From Iwo Jima," portraying the battle through the experience of Japanese soldiers. At 6 p.m., Gallagher Theater, Student Union Memorial Center. Discussion to follow.
Dec. 4: Dedication of the USS Arizona Mall Memorial, part of a Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony. At 3 p.m., south side of Student Union Memorial Center.
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