When University of Arizona students walk across the UA Mall next fall, they will step right inside a memorial to the USS Arizona.
A group of Tucson residents is planning to install bronze medallions on the mall, which is almost exactly the same size as the famed ship sunk by Japanese bombs during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
Each medallion will include the name, rank, home state, and birth and death year for one of the 1,177 sailors and Marines who perished aboard the Arizona, said project designer David Carter.
The 3-inch-diameter medallions, made by Tucson-based Caid Industries and Southard Knives, will be placed about a foot apart along a 597-foot stretch from the east side of Old Main to within inches of the desert garden on the opposite side of the mall.
Carter, whose father served in the Navy in World War II, hopes the memorial creates “the beginning of a connection to the sacrifice made to allow us to have the society we enjoy today.”
On either side of the mall, 5-foot-wide bronze plaques will explain the memorial and show a profile of the ship, Carter said.
“Names are one thing, but if we have a display that puts it in a visual context, it’s very powerful,” Carter said.
“It’s important for younger generations to have some reminder,” said project organizer Bill Westcott, whose uncle and namesake, William P. Westcott Jr., died on the battleship.
“Real important historic events get buried, and it’s each generation’s responsibility to unbury them,” Westcott said.
A particularly poignant aspect of the memorial is the age of the sailors who died on the ship. More than 90 percent of them were ages 17-22, the same age as most UA students, Carter said.
Westcott hopes students who see the medallions will think, “If these guys hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be standing here doing this.”
Charles Albanese, dean emeritus of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, has worked on the concept of the memorial for several years.
“The beauty of this architecture is that it’s invisible,” he said.
Although students might walk across the mall without noticing the medallions, the moment will come when they look down and see the names etched in bronze, he said.
“Then you can’t not see it,” he said.
The idea for the memorial came in late 2011, when Mark Kelly came to the UA’s Centennial Hall to update the community on the recuperation of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered a head wound during the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting.
During a backstage discussion, Carter ruminated on memorials, and recalled the brass doors from the USS Arizona in the Student Union. After completing various other projects, he set about planning the memorial.
The memorial is expected to cost about $150,000, which will come entirely from citizen contributions, Carter said.
Early 2015 was consumed with budget issues at the UA, but in June, the UA gave the green light to the project, as long as the university didn’t have to make any budgetary sacrifices, Carter said.
The UA is “very supportive of this initiative,” Robert Smith, vice president for business affairs at the UA, wrote in an email.
“We at the UA have a long tradition of honor and respect for the USS Arizona,” Smith said, noting the Memorial Student Union was designed to evoke the shapes of various elements of the ship.
Carter plans to hold a preview of the memorial for USS Arizona survivors when they visit the UA campus in December.
The project should break ground next summer, after students have finished classes for the spring semester, he said, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Contact Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or email@example.com. On Twitter @CurtTucsonStar
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