By Brian Amaral-The Providence Journal-A rusted piece of steel will say a lot about a day that would live in infamy: Dec. 7, 1941.
The Rhode Island-based World War II Foundation is set to receive a portion of the USS Arizona, whose sinking in the Pearl Harbor attack 77 years ago marked the beginning of America’s involvement in the war.
The five-by-four-foot piece of steel from the Arizona’s salvaged superstructure will be displayed at the entrance of the foundation’s Global Education Center on Main Street in Wakefield after it arrives in a few weeks, said founder and filmmaker Tim Gray. Its prominent position — it will be the first thing people see when they walk in — is a nod to the fact that Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona is where it all started for the United States of America.
“It represents the horror of that day, the heroics of that day,” said Gray, who has made a number of documentary films about World War II. “It represents the surprise of that day, and it represents the exact moment the United States was violently thrown into World War II.”
The relic was donated as part of a U.S. Navy program, Gray said. Pieces of the ship have been sitting for decades on Ford Island in Hawaii after having been taken from the sunken battleship. As part of the Navy’s program, they are sent all over the world for permanent display, including to Rhode Island, which has deep connections with the Navy. In fact, the Seabees, which have deep Rhode Island connections, worked on packing the relics for shipment, Gray said.
The World War II Foundation’s Global Education Center at 344 Main St. in Wakefield is currently open for educational and school tours, but it will open to the public on a limited basis in January, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Gray said. The center, which has a number of other artifacts and educational materials, was dedicated in November.
The relic from the Arizona should arrive in a few weeks, Gray said. He’s already working with FedEx — including directly with its CEO, Fred Smith, who has been a supporter, Gray said.
The plan is to have it transported by the state police and an honor guard after it lands on the plane, the sort of reverence that the object is treated with in Pearl Harbor, too, Gray said.
Pearl Harbor was akin to Ground Zero for America’s involvement in World War II, Gray said, and having a piece of the Arizona is like having a piece of the World Trade Center.
Unfortunately, Gray said, schools don’t teach enough these days about World War II, which killed tens of millions around the globe.
“You can’t gloss over that time period, because it was a time period where the history of the world hung in the balance,” he said.
Two people from Rhode Island, George Ernest Perkins and Alvaro Everett Vieira, are listed among the casualties on the USS Arizona, according to the National Parks Service. Some casualties do not have home states listed so it is possible other Rhode Islanders died in the attack.
In 2017, the remains of Raymond Haerry, a New Jersey native who lived for many years in Rhode Island, were laid to rest in the USS Arizona. Haerry survived the attack on the Arizona, one of an estimated 335 survivors that day.
According to the National World War II Museum, 2,403 servicemen and civilians were killed in the attack. Nearly half of the victims were aboard the Arizona.