POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 5, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 3:10 a.m. HST, Dec 5, 2010
The abrupt violence that awoke Oahu and the nation to the bloodiest war in world history has been replaced by serenity within the underwater chambers of the sunken USS Arizona.
Several years ago, exploration of some of the deeper sections of the battleship with a remotely operated vehicle revealed a Navy wool dress uniform with epaulets on the shoulder hanging in a closet along with a pair of wool trousers and suspenders.
On the second and third decks, "the state of preservation is phenomenal in that there's no oxygen, so there's no rust or corrosion. There's still paint on the wall," said Brett Seymour, who is with the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center in Colorado.
For an estimated 1.5 million visitors annually, the Arizona Memorial is a powerful symbol of the surprise attack, but the warship itself remains largely invisible just beneath shimmering green waters.
As part of the modernization of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the park service is working to bring the sunken wreck into new 3-D, high-definition focus. A $500,000 film in post-production will reveal to visitors an underwater Arizona like never before, officials said.
"Primarily because of the resolution of the three dimensions, it allows people to feel immersed — as if they are in the water on the ship," said Scott Pawlowski, chief of cultural and natural resources for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial.
A total of 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed on the battleship the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, in what still amounts to the single greatest loss of life in U.S. naval history.
The most visible warship sunk in World War II, the Arizona is a unique national shrine, memorial and tomb for more than 900 U.S. service members.
Dives on the Arizona by the National Park Service in 1983 dramatically illustrated how little was known then about the ship's remains.
The entire No. 1 turret with its three 14-inch guns (which were believed to have been salvaged) was discovered by the first divers, as were a slew of live 5-inch shells that were directly beneath the memorial structure. The ammunition was quickly removed.
The remaining gun turret is in 22 to 24 feet of water — just deep enough that the big guns cannot even be seen from the air, Seymour said.
The roughly 20-minute 3-D film is expected to be finished in the spring. In the meantime, footage from the underwater shoot will be shown on a 42-inch screen in what Pawlowski calls "very high definition" in the visitor center's new museum.
"Modern high-definition is about 1,000 kilobytes per frame, and we shot at 4,000 kilobytes per frame," he said.
The park service spent just under $100,000 for the new film, and the remainder was contributed in in-kind donations by the Navy, underwater robot maker VideoRay, Ocean Technology Systems and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Pawlowski said.
A three-dimensional model of the sunken Arizona is in the museum, and the 3-D film is an important next step in the development of Arizona exhibit technology, said Seymour, producer and director of the new film.
"The park service manages all these great historic sites and landmarks, but the thing about the Arizona is it's still there," Seymour said. "So unlike Gettysburg — that's a big field with a plaque — here you have the physical (remains) and indeed the actual touchstone of the Dec. 7 event."
An archaeologist diver describes underwater through face mask communication the big guns and their capabilities, a stairwell leading to what is known as "officer's country" toward the stern, and the blast area more than six decades after a 1,764-pound aerial bomb penetrated the Arizona's forward deck and blew up ammunition and fuel stores.
"It exploded and tore the sides of the ship outward and the deck of the ship upward, and then the deck collapsed back down, dropping over 20 feet," said Pawlowski, who has dived regularly on the Arizona.
Fires burned for 2 1/2 days after the attack, virtually cremating the men on board.
Footage was shot for the 3-D film in the upper-level "officer's country," revealing a desk, sinks, a rotary phone and two feet of silt on the floor, but Seymour is quick to point out that robot camera forays deeper into the ship are strictly to assess its condition, not to peer at personal effects. Officials say that is in deference to the Arizona as a shipwreck grave site.
"We've imaged a couple of soap dishes and just some mechanical structures of the ship — very little in the way of personal effects or anything like that," Seymour said. "We've always stayed away from any comment on, obviously, remains or personal effects interior-wise."
About 500,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil remain in lower-level tanks on board, with one to four liters seeping out daily, Pawlowski said.
Since 1983 the National Park Service has been studying the 608-foot ship's integrity.
"Nobody argues that there's a half-million gallons of oil in the Arizona," Seymour said. "But what people do debate is how it's going to come out. Eventually the ship is going to go away. When that happens and how long that is, that's what we're determining now."
That oil is contained within multiple tanks on the lower decks — where there is the lowest oxygen level and the greatest preservation.
Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the Valor in the Pacific monument, said there is little wave action affecting the Arizona, and a marine growth coating has become a protectant. Examination by metallurgists has shown the ship could last hundreds of years, he said.
"One of the things that's extremely safe to say is that the interior condition of the ship, and the ship in general, is in very good shape," Seymour said. "The preservation that we've seen on this ship in this harbor is spectacular."