The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the most tragic events in American history. Out of all of the ships that were bombed by surprise that day in 1941, the USS Arizona experienced the highest amount of casualties.
In fact, 1,177 marines and sailors lost their life on board the USS Arizona.
Given the name of the ship, the state of Arizona has always had a special bond to the tragedy, so it makes sense that the USS Arizona would be memorialized in Arizona.
In this article, I’ll give you an overview of what to expect if you decide to check out the beautiful USS Arizona Mall Memorial in Tucson.
What is the USS Arizona Mall Memorial?
The USS Arizona Mall Memorial is a special Pearl Harbor memorial located on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson meant to honor the sacrifice of the USS Arizona crew.
It consists of an outdoor mall area with tributes to all who lost their life, an actual-sized outline of the USS Arizona, an original bell from the ship, and a Memorial Lounge with exhibits and artifacts from Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona.
The construction for the memorial began in the fall of 2016 and the project was finished in January 2017, although it was dedicated in December 2016 for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
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Where is the USS Arizona Mall Memorial?
The USS Arizona Memorial is located at the west end of the University of Arizona Mall, right in the middle of the University of Arizona campus.
The address is: E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85721.
That address is the one listed on Google Maps but you really should be heading to the parking garage nearby if you happen to be traveling by car.
The USS Arizona Memorial is located extremely close to a visitor parking lot.
You will want to head to the 2nd Street Parking Garage which is located at: 1390 E 2nd St, Tucson, AZ 85719. It’s right on the southeast corner of North Mountain Avenue and East Second Street.
Parking is $2 per hour or $10 for the day which is not bad. (It shouldn’t be hard to see everything in under one hour.)
Make sure that you take your parking ticket with you when you leave the garage because you’ll need it to pay at the pay station.
If the gates are already open then parking is free which may be the case on weekends. When we visited on a Saturday morning, we did not have to pay for parking. However, if there is an event such as a football game that might not be the case.
If for some reason you can’t find a parking spot there, consider one of the other garages:
- Cherry Avenue
- The Sixth Street garage
- Tyndall Avenue garage
The 2nd Street Parking Garage nearby has elevators and so it is accessible. Much of the memorial is accessible although cutting through the grass in the mall could pose problems.
Visiting the USS Arizona Mall Memorial Tucson
When you make your visit to the memorial, you want to be sure to not miss anything. So to make things easy, here’s a rundown of everything you’ll want to see.
The bronze medallions
The 1,177 bronze medallions are located where the “bridge” of the USS Arizona would be.
Every individual who lost their life on the USS Arizona is remembered here with a bronze medallion which contains details about the individual’s name, rank, and home state.
For those who shared a family relationship with another lost sailor (e.g., “brother of”) that’s notated as well.
What struck me the most is how young some of these sailors and marines were. It’s insane to think about how 14 and 15-year-olds were getting into the military at that time.
It’s also moving to know that there were 26 sets of brothers and even a father and son pair who were among those who lost their life.
After visiting the National Mall in DC and checking out a lot of the war memorials, I became really interested in the (often controversial) process of how war memorials are designed and displayed.
It’s fascinating to understand the symbolism and features of each memorial and I really think they did an excellent job with this one.
The USS Arizona bell
The USS Arizona bell is definitely a highlight of the memorial area.
It’s housed in the Student Memorial Center Tower next to the mall memorial but to see it at a good angle, you will need to walk closer to one of the ends of the memorial.
It’s a little tucked away in this triangular tower but still open enough to get a good view of.
For me, it was a pretty unreal feeling to actually see the “USS Arizona” signage on the bell for the first time.
This bell has a pretty fascinating history.
It just so happened that a veteran from the University of Arizona, Bill Bowers, (U of A Class of 1927) came across this bell in 1944 when inspecting the contents of crates for brass objects while in Washington.
Astonished by his discovery, he lobbied to save the bell from being melted down at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and is largely responsible for why the bell is currently on display at the University of Arizona today.
The bell originally arrived on the U of A campus in July 1946 but it wouldn’t be used for a few years.
Then in 1951 it was installed in the clock tower of the the Memorial Student Union Building and on November 17, 1951 the bell was rung for the first time.
The bell remained there for the next 50 years until it was transported and installed in the present-day clock tower on August 16, 2002.
Before 2002, the bell was not actually visible, so this was a major upgrade for the public.
When it came time to ring the bell at its new location, Bill Bowers, at the age of 99, was rightfully given the honor of ringing the bell for the first time which happened on September 11, 2002.
It’s now rung seven times on every third Wednesday of every month at 12:07 pm. I’ve also heard that it’s rung after Arizona wins football games (against non-Arizona teams).
The other bell that was used on the USS Arizona is currently located in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor.
The USS Arizona profile
One of the most impressive (and easy to miss) elements of this memorial is the 597-foot long, 97-foot wide outline of the USS Arizona’s deck.
It’s subtle but there is a brick-like outline that is the actual size of the ship. The exact place where the US flag is flying on the memorial represents the foremast which is where the bell in the clock tower would’ve been set on the ship.
That’s interesting because it also happens to line up with where the bell currently is on display in the clock tower.
You can walk the memorial from one end to the other to get a sense of how big the ship was. In addition to the placement of the bells lining up, it’s also crazy to me how the USS Arizona’s size was pretty much a perfect fit for this end of the mall.
Interestingly, the memorial is also located right next to the Old Main building that at one point served as base for the Naval Training School during World War II.
The coral reefs cactus garden
The creator of the memorial, David Carter, put a very thought-provoking touch on the memorial with the coral reef garden. It’s a collection of diverse cacti that together form a beautiful coral reef like visual.
It looks like the cacti are allowed to grow freely which “acknowledges the conscious decision to leave the USS Arizona undisturbed.”
I think there’s always going to be a debate about how to handle remains at sites like Pearl Harbor.
But I personally felt like they made a good decision to simply let the ship “be” and it’s interesting to see that decision represented in a beautiful visual like this that gives the memorial “life.”
USS Arizona Memorial Lounge
If you visit the memorial, be sure to spend some time in the USS Arizona Memorial Lounge. It’s free and does not require any tickets but they do require a mask inside.
This is a small lounge that looks like it is used for random study sessions, but when I visited there were only two other people in the lounge.
The lounge is like a small Pearl Harbor museum exhibit with some artifacts and memorabilia from the ship and the attack.
Inside, you can find pieces from the USS Arizona on display along with artifacts from a Japanese aircraft and their two-man submarine, which was sunk.
There’s a lot of photographs and one of the most haunting was the picture of the band. They were apparently competing in a band competition the evening before the attack and unfortunately all of them failed to survive the attack.
Another interesting piece is that they still have the champagne bottle and water bottle used to christen the ship in 1915.
This is a well done memorial and in my opinion a great stop to make when traveling in Tucson. If possible, I would try to time your visit for one of the Wednesdays when the bell is rung but even if you can’t do that, it is still an interesting stop and a great way to pay respects for those who have fallen while in service of their country.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.