Sixty One years after Japanese bombers sank the U.S.S. Arizona, the silent wreck still sheds fuel oil, drop by drop, over the memories of a hellish Hawaiian morning.
A month after the attack, Navy teams were salvaging guns and usable hardware from the battleship. Divers wearing heavy copper helmets were bringing up safes, record books, and live ordnance. Metalsmith 1st Class Edward Raymer was first to penetrate the Arizona. In his recent war memoir, Descent into Darkness, he writes how viscous oil thickly layered everything in the harbor. The hulls of ships and the pilings on docks were coated with it, and the entire shoreline was blackened.
When he dived to the battleship, the dense floating mass of oil blotted out all daylight. I was submerged in total blackness. Lights were useless because they reflected directly back into the divers eyes. Instructed to find and disarm an unexploded torpedo, Raymer groped his way through the spaces of the Arizonas third deck, trailing an air hose connected to a pump topside. I got the eerie feeling again that I wasnt alone. Something was near. I felt the body floating above me.
Raymers movement through the water had created a suction that drew floating corpses to him, bodies with heads and hands picked clean by scavenger crabs.
Their skeletal fingers brushed across my copper helmet,
he remembers in horror.
The sound reminded me of the tinkle of oriental wind chimes.
Medics wearing gas masks against nausea gathered only 229 Arizona dead from the waters before the Navy reluctantly decided to leave the rest untouched.