SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The World War II Foundation, headquartered on Wakefield’s Main St., has added an important piece of the war’s history to its Global Education Center.
The foundation has received a piece of the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Less than 100 museums have received a piece of the ship.
Documentary filmmaker Tim Gray, president of Tim Gray Media and founder of the World War II Foundation, said it was about a six month process to acquire the five-foot-long piece of the ship to display at the Wakefield center.
“We submitted our request, and then they evaluate it and then they decide and then it takes another few months for it to actually happen, where they go in and identify the piece, then cut the piece and ship the piece,” documentary filmmaker Tim Gray, president of Tim Gray Media and founder of the World War II Foundation, said. “So it’s kind of like the military, you hurry up and wait.”
The piece is one that was removed after the attack, a part of the upper superstructure of the USS Arizona, removed from the sunken battleship in the aftermath of the attack. The lower part of the ship remains on the seafloor of Pearl Harbor, where it settled after the attack.
“Following the attack it was heavily damaged and dangerous to leave up, so they took that part of the Arizona off and moved all of it to Ford Island, and what remains today is just the lower part of the ship, the memorial part,” Gray said.
Based on the size of the educational institution, the size of the piece is determined. Gray says they had decided a five by four foot piece would be the best for the Global Education Center.
After the U.S. Navy identifies the piece that the institution receives, Navy Seabees do the cutting work and packing, Gray said. FedEx donated the cost of the shipping to Rhode Island, after Gray had reached out to CEO Fred Smith. “So they handled all the logistics, which was a big help.”
A ceremony was held Monday at T.F. Green Airport, where Sen. Jack Reed spoke, along with representatives from FedEx and the US Navy.
The USS Arizona was sunk on December 7, 1941 when a Japanese bomb struck the forward ammunition magazine of the battleship, igniting a huge explosion which killed 1,177 sailors and marines. Almost half of all those who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 were from the USS Arizona. More than 900 of her crew remain entombed aboard the battleship today.
The piece of the Arizona will be the first thing people see when they walk in the door of the Global Education Center, and that’s for a very specific purpose, Gray said.
“The symbolism of it is when you come in and you see it, that’s the moment when America was violently thrown into World War II,” he said. “So we want people to see it first so they’ll recognize that was there, it’s kind of a Ground Zero type thing kind of like the World Trade Center, what that represents.”
Right now, the piece is on a temporary display. A permanent display case is being built right now, Gray said. “We’re going to build something that fits the size of the artifact, so we’re going to build something around it that elevates the artifact more to eye level while keeping in mind we want something that represents the ship as a whole, whether that be a wood base. We want people to see it on all sides, so we’re designing that right now.”
As Gray said in his remarks at T.F. Green Airport, “This section of the battleship was there. It was a part of the narrative of that day. A part of history that ignited a nation’s passion to fight for freedom and brought us together unlike any time in our history, before or since,” he told the crowd. “This section of the USS Arizona represents the horror of that day, but also a nation’s resolve, determination, sacrifice and unity to overcome great odds.”
“What we hope is that when people visit this small section of the USS Arizona at the World War II Foundation’s new Global Education center they don’t just see rusted and aged steel, but can visualize the faces of those who were there on Sunday, December 7th, 1941,” Gray said at the event. “This USS Arizona relic, now permanently at home here in Rhode Island, is a symbol of a generation that saved the world. And we are who we are today because of them.”