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Pearl Harbor


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By Priit J. Vesilind Photographs by David Doubilet



Sixty years after Japanese bombers sank the U.S.S. Arizona, the silent wreck still sheds fuel oil, drop by drop, over the memories of a hellish Hawaiian morning.



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A month after the attack, Navy teams were salvaging guns and usable hardware from the battleship. Divers wearing heavy copper helmets were bringing up safes, record books, and live ordnance. Metalsmith 1st Class Edward Raymer was first to penetrate the Arizona. In his recent war memoir, Descent into Darkness, he writes how “viscous oil thickly layered everything in the harbor. The hulls of ships and the pilings on docks were coated with it, and the entire shoreline was blackened.”

When he dived to the battleship, “the dense floating mass of oil blotted out all daylight. I was submerged in total blackness.” Lights were useless because they reflected directly back into the diver’s eyes. Instructed to find and disarm an unexploded torpedo, Raymer groped his way through the spaces of the Arizona’s third deck, trailing an air hose connected to a pump topside. “I got the eerie feeling again that I wasn’t alone. Something was near. I felt the body floating above me.”

Raymer’s movement through the water had created a suction that drew floating corpses to him, bodies with heads and hands picked clean by scavenger crabs.
“Their skeletal fingers brushed across my copper helmet,” he remembers in horror. “The sound reminded me of the tinkle of oriental wind chimes.”

Medics wearing gas masks against nausea gathered only 229 Arizona dead from the waters before the Navy reluctantly decided to leave the rest untouched.

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The United States was forever changed after it entered World War II. How has what happened at Pearl Harbor affected your life?
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Oil trapped in the sunken USS Arizona Memorial poses a serious environmental threat as bulkheads corrode. What should happen to a shrine that is also a tomb?
Vote now.

Special
You will find survivors’ stories, a multimedia map of the Pearl Harbor attack, and more.

Video
Watch vintage footage and listen to survivors’ stories in this excerpt of our Pearl Harbor special, which aired Sunday, June 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC. Courtesy of National Geographic Channel. RealPlayer
Windows Media.



In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.


Dick Fiske, a bugler on the U.S.S. West Virginia, wasn’t the only Pearl Harbor survivor in his family. His father, Frank Fiske, was the Navy chief commissary steward on the U.S.S. Tangier, and his brother Frank Fiske, Jr., was an Army medic at Schofield Barracks. Dick Fiske was one of many servicemen to have family at Pearl Harbor. The U.S.S. Arizona carried 36 sets of brothers (33 pairs and three sets of three) and one father-son pair. When she was bombed on December 7, 1941, 24 of those sets and the father-son pair died. Less than a month later five Sullivan brothers—George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert—from Waterloo, Iowa, joined the Navy hoping to serve together. A friend of theirs had been killed on the Arizona, and they wanted to fight. The Sullivans were assigned to the U.S.S. Juneau, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13, 1942, during the Battle of Guadalcanal. All five Sullivan brothers were killed.

At that time the Navy and other military branches began to consider separating brothers in combat. In July 1942 the Navy forbade commanding officers from forwarding requests from brothers to serve on the same ship or station. Mandatory separation of brothers already serving together was considered, but no action was taken. On October 26, 1944, the War Department announced a new policy to remove surviving sons from the hazards of combat. If a family had lost two or more sons in the armed forces and had only one surviving son, either the family or the son could apply for him to be removed from hazardous duties. This policy is still in effect today, but Navy family members can serve together on the same ship.

—Marisa Larson



National Park Service
www.nps.gov/usar
Includes facts and figures about the USS Arizona Memorial and the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Links provide additional detail.

University of Arizona
www.library.arizona.edu/images/USS_Arizona/USS_Arizona.shtml
Links to extensive resources on all aspects of the attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath.

Submerged Cultural Resources Study
www.nps.gov/scru/Revisit.html
The story of surveying the sunken U.S.S. Arizona, revealing both scientific and personal findings.

Midget Subs
www.usni.org/navalhistory/Articles99/Nhrodgaard.htm
Recent information from the U.S. Naval Institute on the role of Japanese submarines in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Burlingame, Burl. Advance Force: Pearl Harbor. Pacific Monograph, 1992.

Goralski, Robert, and Russell W. Freeburg. Oil and War. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1987.

Lord, Walter. Day of Infamy. Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1998 (first published 1957).

Prange, Gordon W., and others. At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Prange, Gordon W., and others. December 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor. McGraw-Hill, 1988.

Prange, Gordon W., and others. Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History. McGraw-Hill, 1986.

Raymer, Edward C. Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941. Presidio Press, 1996.

Stillwell, Paul. Battleship Arizona, An Illustrated History. Naval Institute Press, 1991.

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Allen, Thomas B., and Robert D. Ballard. “Return to the Battle of Midway,” National Geographic (April 1999), 80-103.

The Battle for Midway. National Geographic Videos, 1999.

Eliot, John L. “Bikini’s Nuclear Graveyard,” National Geographic (June 1992), 70-83.

Allen, Thomas B. “Pearl Harbor: A Return to the Day of Infamy,” National Geographic (December 1991), 50-77.

Ellis, William S. “Hampton Roads, Where the Rivers End,” National Geographic (November 1985), 72-107.

McKnew, Thomas W. “Four-Ocean Navy in the Nuclear Age,” National Geographic (February 1965), 145-187.

Shor, Franc. “Pacific Fleet: Force for Peace,” National Geographic (September 1959), 283-335.

Johnson, Irving. “Adventures with the Survey Navy,” National Geographic (July 1947), 130-148.

Nimitz, Chester W. “Your Navy as Peace Insurance,” National Geographic (June 1946), 681-736.

Grosvenor, Melville Bell. “Landing Craft for Invasion,” National Geographic (July 1944), 1-30.

Grosvenor, Melville Bell. “Cruise on an Escort Carrier,” National Geographic (November 1943), 513-546.

Sutherland, Mason. “Aboard a Blimp Hunting U-boats: A Day above the Atlantic Reveals Navy Talk and Navy Ways, Creeping Convoys, and Torpedoed Wrecks,” National Geographic (July 1943), 79-96.

Simpich, Frederick, Jr. “Life on the Hawaii ‘Front’: All-out Defense and Belt Tightening of Pacific Outpost Foreshadow the Things to Come on Mainland,” National Geographic (October 1942), 541-560.

Colton, F. Barrows. “Life in Our Fighting Fleet,” National Geographic (June 1941), 671-702.

Daniels, Josephus. “The Gem of the Ocean: Our American Navy,” National Geographic (April 1918), 313-335.

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