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USS Arizona bell silenced over worries about wear

USS Arizona bell (Michael Barera/WikiCommons)

The USS Arizona bell at the University of Arizona won’t ring out on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day this year — or possibly ever again.

At the request of the U.S. Navy, university officials have decided to stop ringing the historic bell atop the Student Union for fear of damaging it.

“Yes, we can no longer ring the USS Arizona bell,” confirmed Todd Millay, executive director of the Arizona Student Unions, in an email on Friday.

According to Millay, the decision was handed down by the Navy, which he said still owns the bell and has only been loaning it to the UA for the past 74 years.

Specifically, Millay said, the directive came from the Curator Branch of the Naval History and Heritage and Command.

“The exterior of the bell shows slight damage, and the black paint on the inscribed lettering is fading,” Millay said. “Overall the USS Arizona bell remains in good condition, and we hope to keep this artifact at our institution for as long as we possibly can.”

Though the directive from the Navy came down in December 2019, the old ship’s bell was actually rung one last time on March 4 this year, when the UA’s Navy ROTC unit held a memorial ceremony for Donald Stratton, one of the last three surviving members of the USS Arizona crew.

According to UA Special Collections, the bell is said to be made of silver and copper mined in Arizona.

UA graduate Bill Bowers is widely credited with rescuing the bell from being melted down in a Navy scrap yard in Bremerton, Washington, in 1944.

It was paraded through Tucson and delivered to the university on Oct. 27, 1946, after a presentation ceremony at Armory Park featuring Navy Rear Adm. Milton E. Mills and UA President Alfred Atkinson.

The original plan was to hang the bell in the tower of Old Main, but it proved to be too large and heavy at more than half a ton.

Instead, the bell was installed in its own, specially built tower at the Student Union building, ringing out on Pearl Harbor Day and other special occasions since 1951.

The bell might not have sounded this Dec. 7, even without the directive from the Navy. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Monday’s annual remembrance day ceremony is being conducted virtually by the Navy ROTC by way of a Zoom meeting scheduled to start at 6:25 a.m.

Johnny Moore, a Marine gunnery sergeant who organizes military ceremonies at the UA, said in an email that the Navy ROTC prerecorded this year’s Pearl Harbor Day ceremony — and rang a small bell — in memory of “the eight Arizonans entombed in the USS Arizona” and for Stratton.

“The bell in the bell tower will not be rung this year or ever again,” Moore said.


(c) 2020 The Arizona Daily Star

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