In most of Arizona, including Pima County, Interstate 10 is also known as Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway.

Before dawn on Dec. 7, 1941, about 350 planes were launched from Japanese aircraft carriers in a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The intention of the assault was to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet at its base in Oahu, Hawaii, to give Japan an early advantage in the Pacific campaign. Eight battleships and numerous other warships were sunk or severely damaged in the sneak attack, along with 186 aircraft lost.

One of the battleships hit was the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 of its 1,400 crew members — more than half of the total casualties in the entire attack.

At some point after the Pearl Harbor attack, likely in 1943, the U.S. Navy salvaged two of the ship’s bells but their location was unspecified.

In 1944, Wilber L. “Bill” Bowers, an Army captain and University of Arizona graduate, was serving at the Puget Sound Naval Yard in Bremerton, Washington. While searching for something to signal gunmen with, he stumbled across one the ship’s bells in a wooden crate. He soon learned that the bell, which had been made of silver and copper mined in Arizona, was to be melted down at the yard.

Bowers, believing the bell needed to be saved, contacted then-UA President Alfred Atkinson and asked that he contact Arizona Gov. Sidney P. Osborn to rescue the bell from being destroyed.

The governor submitted a request to the U.S. Navy in August 1944 to bring the bell to the university, either immediately or at the end of the war.

Osborn said in his request that the University of Arizona wanted to install it in Old Main, the original campus building. At the time, Old Main was being used as the Naval Indoctrination Training School, and therefore was an appropriate place for the ship’s bell to be hung.

Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal told Gov. Osborn the bell would be presented to the state after World War II ended.

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In the meantime, at the suggestion of Rear Admiral R.M. Griffin, commandant of the Puget Sound Naval Yard, the USS Arizona bell was placed in the naval yard to inspire the officers and enlisted men there to avenge the Pearl Harbor attack.

On Oct. 26, 1946, Rear Admiral Milton E. Miles visited Tucson to review the Navy Day parade, which was held at least partly downtown.

As part of the two-day program, special ceremonies were held at Armory Park, where Miles presented Atkinson with the bell.

After obtaining the bell, the university decided not to install it at Old Main, but kept it in storage at the Arizona State Museum on campus.

After several years the USS Arizona bell was installed in the new Student Union Memorial Building. It began to toll from the tower of that building 10 years to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway and the USS Arizona bell are reminders of that fateful day at Pearl Harbor.


Richard Holmes, “The Oxford Companion To Military History,” Oxford University Press, 2001

Jim Turner, “Arizona: A Celebration of the Grand Canyon State,” Gibbs Smith Pub., 2011

Bill Bowers Obit:

“USS Arizona Bell May Some Day Grace U of A,” Aug. 16, 1944

“Admiral Miles Heads Navy Day,” Arizona Daily Star, Oct. 26, 1946

“USS Arizona Not Forgotten at University of Arizona,” Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 8, 1949

“Student Union Building Dedicated In Solemnity,” Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 8, 1951

Student Union and Old Main info:

Brief History of the USS Arizona: