PHOENIX (NNS) -- Thousands of people gathered in front of the Arizona State Capitol at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza to attend the opening ceremony for a World War II memorial Dec. 7.
The memorial, "Guns to Salute the Fallen," features plaques with the names of the 1,902 Arizona Sailors, who perished during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on nine blue steel columns straddled by gun barrels that were salvaged from two famed battleships, USS Arizona and USS Missouri.
USS Arizona was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii, marking the beginning of America's involvement in the war 72 years ago.
The ceremony crowned a three-year project marshaled by Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who was instrumental in saving the rusting barrels from an East Coast scrap yard.
"I heard from John Thomas, the former attorney in the Arizona House of Representatives, about a gun barrel from the USS Arizona sitting in a Virginia surplus yard for the past 50 or 60 years," said Bennett during the memorial dedication speech. "If something wasn't done with it, the Navy would sell it for scrap or who knows what they would have done."
Bennett described the memorial in great detail, bringing attention to the meaning of the 405 inches between the gun barrels as an inch for every 1,000 military personnel who died during WWII and the nine blue steel columns that represent the nine minutes it took for USS Arizona to sink.
Additionally, he explained that the columns, adorned with nameplates of the fallen Sailors, are laser engraved and designed to flicker in light and wind, giving them an illusion of waves. The gun barrel from USS Arizona represents the start of WWII while the gun barrel from USS Missouri, the ship on which the Japanese surrendered, marks the end of the war.
"The two barrels are like bookends of the war, one to represent the beginning and one to represent the end," said Bennett.
Three of the nine living survivors, all in their 90s, were honored during the ceremony.
Rear Adm. Scott Sanders, an Arizona native and former reserve deputy director at Joint Staff (J7) before retiring in September 2013, was among the honored guest speakers.
According to Sanders, USS Arizona was the "top of her class and the pride of the fleet," which is why the Japanese chose to bomb this high profile target.
Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Dec. 7 "a date which will live in infamy," Sanders said he worried that for "too many years, the memory was slipping away," and added that this ceremony means so much for residents because Arizona finally has a WWII memorial to celebrate the sacrifice and honor the memory of those who have served.
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