When the USS Arizona was shot down in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, killing 1,177 service members aboard the battleship, a piece of America’s collective heart was also lost.
A shard was recovered on May 18, thanks to the delivery of a historic memento – a literal fragment of the ship – which will soon be displayed at the Rowland Freedom Center in Vacaville.
“I think it’s something the public will enjoy coming to see,” Paul Mirich, the center’s chief executive, said on Saturday. “Everyone has learned about Pearl Harbor, what happened there. It’s expensive to visit Hawaii. That way, we can bring them a bit of Hawaii.
Located in Oahu, Hawaii at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, the Arizona Memorial honors those who died, including the 1,102 service members buried on the ship. Hawaii is about 2,500 miles from California, and round-trip tickets can run into the thousands depending on when you visit.
Years ago, Mirich watched a documentary about Arizona. He learned that parts of the battleship had been dismantled and left in a heap at Hospital Point, on the base. He also later discovered that the Navy allowed museums and veterans’ organizations to apply to receive one of these highly revered historical pieces.
So he sent in an application and hoped for the best. When he heard from the Navy office in Hawaii, he was shocked.
“It was a shot in the dark,” he recalls. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
Various documents accompanied the heavy artifact recovered – a square of heat-burnished metal, likely from the explosion aboard the ship during the attack, with a small circular dent in the middle. The idea is that the knot is a nut that once held a bolt.
“I guess it either held like a staircase or a ladder,” Mirich advised.
The hope is to place a glass display case in the museum’s World War II wing. The area already features a large backdrop of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the burning USS Arizona, a Japanese flag found in the cockpit of a downed Zero, a Japanese headband, media coverage and more.
Ultimately, the Arizona coin will be placed in a glass box with a grip at the top, allowing people to reach and feel the metal.
“I want people to be able to say they hit the USS Arizona,” Mirich said.
The Rowland Freedom Center is located at Nut Tree Airport and is open daily.
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/492347858795070/ or rowlandfreedomcenter.org.