A piece of the USS Arizona arrived in Colorado on Tuesday honoring 32 Coloradans whose bodies remain entombed in the ship forever.
A crate bearing a rusted chunk of steel beam from the vessel arrived at Denver International Airport around 6 a.m. and traveled to the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora by motorcade.
There, sailors in dress uniforms carried the box along a pathway lined by military members who saluted silently as it passed. Then the honor guard stopped and opened the box to reveal the artifact from the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Air Force Master Sgt. Carlin Leslie of Centennial filed by with daughters — Lacey, 4, and Riley, who’s almost 2 — to take a look.
He said the relic is an apt memorial for sailors who never got a proper burial.
“This is a way to recover those individuals, to bring them back to the state of Colorado. It's the most dignified transfer that they may ever get in their entire lives, and especially for their families to have that kind of closure,” Leslie said. “Yeah, it's not a body, yeah, it's not a piece of, a relic of them, but it's a relic of what they served for and what they represented for our American freedom.”
Even though his daughters are young, Leslie said, he wanted them to learn the Arizona's story.
“It’s something they’ll remember for hopefully the rest of their lives, that we took the time just to come out and remember the Coloradans that are still on the USS Arizona.”
Forty-one Coloradans died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thirty-two of them were trapped inside the Arizona when it sank.
Rick Crandall, founder and executive director of the Freedom Memorial, said the relic is a section of a beam that remained above water and was preserved after the Arizona sank. Tuesday’s delivery also included a map pinpointing its location on the ship.
About 150 pieces of the Arizona have been distributed around the U.S. over the years. Crandall said his group’s application was approved just before the military’s recent suspension of the program.
The Freedom Memorial is an outside venue with panels bearing the names of more than 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing in action in wars since statehood. Plans for an indoor exhibition space are underway. The relic will stay in storage until that’s done, but it will be displayed occasionally at public events, Crandall said.
One of the leaders of Tuesday’s ceremony, Nikki Stratton of Morrison, is related to a sailor who survived.
Stratton’s grandfather, Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton suffered severe burns but recovered. He was 97 when he died in 2020.
Nikki Stratton said Tuesday’s event would have been deeply meaningful to him.
“His dying wish was that no one would ever forget Pearl Harbor — especially that no one would ever forget the USS Arizona — and seeing the people out here, seeing the military members out here, I think he would just be smiling because this is his dying wish fulfilled.”
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