UA's Connection to USS Arizona More Than Just a Bell
The Student Union Memorial Center has other visible ties to the battleship, and the University's NROTC leadership is helping with planning the campus observance of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

By Jane Prescott-Smith, UA Libraries
Aug. 29, 2016

At first, it might seem odd that the bell from a sunken battleship would be permanently housed in the bell tower at the University of Arizona's Student Union Memorial Center. But the bell's presence is just a small part of a multifaceted relationship.

The USS Arizona, a dreadnought battleship launched on June 19, 1915, was named after the newest U.S. state in the union. The ship had a rich history before being deployed with the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor in the spring of 1940.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, ended the battleship's service and propelled the United States into World War II. During the attack, the ship suffered multiple direct hits and its forward ammunition magazines exploded. The ship sank, and 1,177 of 1,511 crewmembers were killed. The sunken ship remains at Pearl Harbor and is a national shrine.

Not quite three years later, UA alum Wilber L. "Bill" Bowers found one of the bells from the Arizona as the bell sat in the Puget Sound Naval Yard, awaiting its turn to be melted and recycled. Bowers saved the bell and enlisted help to bring it to the UA after the end of the war.

The bell is far from the only nod to the USS Arizona at the Student Union Memorial Center, which itself was designed and constructed to evoke the structure of the battleship.

At the north entrance to the Union stands a sculpture by local artist Susan Gamble, owner of Santa Teresa Tile Works. The sculpture resembles a ship's mast and incorporates 1,511 metal tags — one for each of the men serving on the USS Arizona on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack — which make a chime-like sound with the blowing wind.

The Union also has a memorial fountain incorporating anchor chains and metal plates that call to mind a ship's hull. On the second floor of the Union is a memorial display featuring items on loan from the University Libraries' Special Collections, which manages one of the largest archives of the USS Arizona memorabilia in the world.

The UA also has a long and proud tradition of military training. In the four years that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Naval Training School moved into Old Main, and in 1945 it graduated more than 10,000 men. Today, the UA's Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp (NROTC) company comprises three platoons with more than 100 students enrolled.

NROTC leadership has been engaged in helping with the 75th anniversary planning in a number of ways.

Of note, several midshipmen will fold a flag that flew on the USS Arizona (and is now part of the Special Collections archives) in preparation for a trip to Pearl Harbor. The flag will accompany the UA men's basketball team when it travels to Pearl Harbor to play Michigan State on Nov. 11 as part of the Armed Forces Classic. Special Collections is lending the flag to the USS Arizona Memorial for the month of the 75th anniversary for display at the visitors' center of the USS Arizona Memorial, located at Pearl Harbor.

Also, NROTC members have participated each year in a Remembrance Ceremony. This year's ceremony at the UA will be held at 3 p.m. on Dec. 4 on the south side of the Union. The event will include the dedication of the USS Arizona Mall Memorial, designed to honor the sailors and Marines who lost their lives aboard the ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The memorial will help students and visitors alike to grasp the sheer size of the battleship, as its shape will be outlined in full scale from the cactus garden (called the Krutch Garden) to Old Main. The design will include a brick walkway adjacent to the bell tower and 1,177 bronze medallions, one for each man who perished on the ship that fateful day. Fundraising continues for the memorial, and donations can be made online.

Also to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the UA's Special Collections has mounted an additional, more extensive exhibit in its gallery space, titled "The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona," which opened Aug. 29 and will remain open through Dec. 23. Most of the items in the exhibition have been donated by individuals associated with the USS Arizona during the battleship's 26 years at sea.

Original photographs document not only the ship but its personnel, from launch to destruction, and a video will run continuously in the exhibit. Also included are papers, documents and memorabilia, such as the ship's newspaper, official U.S. Navy documents and discharge certificates, and crew correspondence.

For those interested but unable to travel to campus, a newly designed online experience includes detailed images and maps. The online archive, available at, has a navigational tool, which allows visitors to dig deeper into some of the materials for an enhanced viewing experience. 

Extra info

The UA is hosting a number of fall events to commemorate the 75th anniversary. More information is available online.

About the USS Arizona:

  • 1916: The year the ship launched. It was a member of the Pennsylvania class of super-dreadnaughts, characterized by a waterline armor belt and large-caliber guns.
  • 1918: The ship joins the escort of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Talks.
  • 1919: The ship is deployed to Turkey to provide a stabilizing influence during the Greco-Turkish War.
  • 1921: The USS Arizona is reassigned to the Pacific Fleet.
  • 1929: The USS Arizona is modernized at Norfolk Navy Yard.
  • 1931: The ship hosts U.S. President Herbert Hoover for a Caribbean vacation cruise.
  • 1934: The ship and crew are featured in the James Cagney film "Here Comes the Navy."
  • 1940: The USS Arizona and the rest of the Pacific Fleet are stationed at Pearl Harbor as a deterrent to the Japanese.


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Jane Prescott-Smith

UA Libraries