On December 7, 1941, the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, was attacked by 353 imperial Japanese aircraft. The attack destroyed 188 American aircraft and eight U.S. Navy battleships. Four of the battleships sank in the harbor: the California, the West Virginia, the Oklahoma and the Arizona. The toll was 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 wounded.
On the day after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on the Empire of Japan, launching the United States’ entrance into World War II. He also declared the observance of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day as an annual ceremony in remembrance of that day and those who lost their lives.
Each year, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has held a memorial to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor. Staff members from Community departments such as the veterans’ representatives, administration, Salt River Fire Department, Salt River Police Department and numerous veterans organizations come together to pay homage to those who fought bravely that day and to those who lost their lives.
The SRPMIC has a close tie to the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii thanks to the efforts of the late Joel Jefferson, a member of the American Legion Post #114 Bushmasters. In 2007, the Community received a U.S. flag that had flown over the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Jefferson went through a lengthy process working with Skip Wheeler of the National Park Service, and on October 12, 2007, the American Legion Post #114 and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community were granted a flag in a special ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Jefferson pursued the flag as a way to remember all the highly decorated veterans from the Community who fought in World War II and to remember a very specific SRPMIC member, Raymond Valenzuela (U.S. Navy, World War II), who was at Pearl Harbor when the attack happened. Valenzuela helped sailors out of the water as he was on his way to his duty station when the attack began.
Each year this flag is shared with other communities and veterans’ organizations around the state; they display it and give people around Arizona the opportunity to pay their respects and remember those who were there at Pearl Harbor that day.
Another big piece of the Pearl Harbor Memorial recently arrived in the Community: A piece of the USS Arizona battleship has found its final resting place right in the Community at the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River Fields. The piece is the boathouse of the USS Arizona ship. It took veterans Ricardo Leonard, Robert Flores, Rick Hartman and Thomas Jackson seven years to obtain the piece of the ship for the Community. The boathouse relic has been placed in its housing unit located at the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River Fields and is now open for public view.
The official opening of the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River Fields took place in late February 2020. The 5-acre memorial features columns that form a scale outline of the battleship. There are more than 1,500 columns, representing all the crew members who served on that ship during the attack; gaps in that outline represent those who survived the attack. Each column represents a life that was lost that day of the Pearl Harbor attack. Each column illuminates at night, creating an entirely different atmosphere compared with the memorial during the day. Throughout the gardens are benches engraved with quotes from people who were there on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as plaques explaining the event’s history.
A Pearl Harbor Day Memorial virtual event will take place at the Memorial Gardens on Monday, December 7. SRPMIC members and the public can view the live virtual event via the facebook.com/srpmicvets or instagram.com/saltriver_veterans1879/ pages starting at 9 a.m.
“We just want to thank veterans and remember those veterans,” said Veterans Representative Troy Truax. “We appreciate their services, especially those who served in that era of World War II, the greatest generation to honor and respect. Being who we are as Native American people, we have stepped up to the call of duty to protect their land and families. If you asked any one of those people if they would serve again, they would automatically say they would do it again.”
If you would like to pay your respects and learn more about the Pearl Harbor attack, you can visit the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River Fields located at 7455 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, or visit the website at discoversaltriver.com/uss-arizona-memorial-gardens-at-salt-river. The memorial is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.