A COURIER SUN SPECIAL SECTION Coping withDeath Burials at Sea on the USS Arizona (Sunk at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941) BY BONNIE MCCULLOUGH The tradition of burial at sea is an ancient one. As far as anyone knows this has been a practice as long as people have gone to sea. Many burials at sea took place as recently as World War II when naval forces operated at sea for weeks and months at a time. Since World War II, many service members, veterans, and family members have chosen to be buried at sea. One of the most unusual burials at sea takes place aboard the famed USS Arizona. This magnifi cent battle ship took a direct hit from a Japanese torpedo – dropped from a plane – which caused the ship to explode in a massive inferno that killed many of her crew in just a few seconds. When the Arizona sank, the remainder of the 1,177 sailors on board were trapped below deck to be entombed forever in the ship they loved since that fateful day in 1941 that made America’s entry into World War II inevitable. In 1982, the fi rst interment of a survivor of the attack took place at the ship. Some survivors are cremated, and the cremains are scattered directly over the water covering the ship. Other survivors have chosen to have their cremains placed into a special urn, which is then carried under water by Navy divers, to be placed in the ship’s gun turret #4. The site of these burials is the USS Arizona Memorial, an elegant white stone structure arching over the battleship, which rose from a wartime desire to establish some sort of memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who died in the attack. Suggestions for such a memorial began in 1943, but it wasn’t until 1949, when the Territory of Hawaii established the Pacifi c War Memorial Commission, that the fi rst real steps were taken to bring it about. The memorial was fi nally dedicated in 1962. Funeral services conducted around the Arizona consist of a full military funeral, which is held on the memorial. The funeral is a private event intended only for family, guests and Pearl Harbor survivors. In recent years, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain who is also a Pearl Harbor survivor has offi ciated at the services. The Navy or Marine Corps provide a rifl e honor guard and a bugler. These funerals are a tribute to the bond that developed among the seamen who served aboard the Arizona: even after all these years, they wished to join their fellow shipmates who rest for all eternity beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor. (Research from USS Arizona, published by St. Martin’s press and www.history.navy.mil/faqs.) Bonnie McCullough is executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.
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