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University of Arizona and USS Arizona

By chance, the state of Arizona’s connection to the ship re-emerged three years after the events of December 7, when former University of Arizona alumnus Wilbur Bowers (class of 1927) encountered the ship’s bell in Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington state, beginning what would become the University of Arizona’s enduring commitment to preserving the legacy of the USS Arizona.

 

The Ship’s Bell

 

In June 1944, while in search of electric gongs for anti-aircraft guns and searchlights at a salvage yard in the Bremerton Navy Yard, Wilbur Bowers discovered one of the bells from the USS Arizona, enclosed in a crate and in line to be melted down.  Upon realizing what he had found, Bowers immediately set out to do what he could in order to save the bell, contacting then University of Arizona President Alfred Atkins. By August of the same year, UA President Atkins contacted Arizona Governor Sidney P. Osborn who wrote to the Honorable James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, requesting that once the war ended, the bell be turned over to the State of Arizona, and be hung at the University of Arizona’s Old Main building. The bell reached the UA campus on October 27, 1946 with much fanfare, as part of Navy Day celebrations. The celebration included a parade through downtown Tucson and the official presentation was held at Armory Park. Rear Admiral Milton E. Miles (an Arizona native) presented the bell to the University of Arizona on behalf of the Navy. It was proclaimed that day that the bell would hang in the new Student Building, in a tower especially created for it. While the Student Union has seen changes since its construction in 1951, the bell has remained at the heart of the building and University, and as part of UA tradition, it is rung for special occasions throughout the year.

Memorial Student Union USS Arizona Lounge and Collection

Soon after the arrival of the ship’s bell on campus, former seamen and their families began to donate memorabilia and relics documenting their experiences aboard the ship over its lifetime. A lounge in the Memorial Student Union is dedicated to showcasing selected items gifted to the University in remembrance of those who served and ultimately lost their lives. Every year since 1951, the USS Arizona Reunion Association on the weekend prior to December 7, has held a ceremony officially presenting items donated to the University of Arizona for the archive.

Today, the collection contains more than 15,000 items, and when not on display, items can be found at the University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections. ​

University of Arizona & USS Arizona