IN REPOSE by Brian O’Connor
Excerpt 1 – From Chapter 2: Meeting Arizona
As a Navy diver, though still new at it, I was getting fairly accustomed to diving around ships. It was what the job was all about. But, as I approached ARIZONA, it was not the familiar, smooth side of a ship that I saw, but a large, rough, dark brown wall. Over the years of immersion, the outer hull surfaces had corroded, but more importantly had become covered with a thick layer of marine growth. I was immediately reminded that some forty-three years had passed since ARIZONA went down. Almost not believing that I was actually there, I reached out to touch the side of the hull as I swam up to it. I placed my hand on the uneven surface and for a moment just stayed there, hovering in the slight current. All my years of studying the ship, the attack, and visiting the Memorial came together in that moment of contact. But it was not merely the feeling of touching something historic, but rather a personal “connection” with it. It was somewhat like meeting an old friend, someone you’d known for many years. But it wasn’t just one friend, but more than that. There was a collective presence; a sensation unlike anything I ever felt before. It seemed that I could feel the soul of the ship and her crew. That she and they were alive. There was an energy there and I was connected to it. I can’t call it ghostly or spectral, because those terms tend to imply both a visible thing and some sort of fear or malevolence, and there was none of that. It was almost as though the presence knew we were there for them. It was truly astounding. To this day, though asked a number of times, I still find it difficult to describe the feeling, the emotion of that first contact.
Aside from my own breathing, there was absolute silence. Then slowly the sounds returned. I noticed the normal hums and clicking; the lapping of water and exhaled air bubbling up from other divers. Then the moment passed. I glanced over at Gary, feeling quite self-conscious and not really sure just how long I’d lingered there. The look in his eyes behind the swim mask reflected his understanding. I guessed he’d probably experienced a similar “moment” himself, and he was not about to disturb mine. Nothing need be said. He nodded and then seemed to smile; at least as much of a smile as one can make with a scuba regulator in your mouth. Then, convinced that I was back with him, Gary motioned with his hand and we moved on.
IN REPOSE by Brian O’Connor
Excerpt 2 – From Chapter 10: Project Seamark
Upon our return, we found that the remaining crew had made great progress in getting the other equipment set up and operational. An impromptu shade structure had been rigged between the trees and they were now testing the mini-rover. Enter problem number two, center stage. In the pea-green soup of the lake, the mini-rover camera could only see about six inches. Even with the color monitor and lights, it was like trying to drive in a thick fog. Additionally, though NPS ranger Dan Lenihan had experienced minimal visibility issues before, it was hard to say just how deep the fog layer would be. Briefly there were thoughts of shutting down the whole operation.
Since my youth, I had enjoyed swimming and depths and had done breath-hold dives for years. After becoming a Navy diver, I had put my free diving abilities to good use on several occasions. Upon hearing of the visibility issue, I grabbed my mask, fins, depth gauge and light and made my way down into the water. Moving out toward the middle of the lake, I began a series of dives, increasing the depth on each drop and checking the depth as I went. On the third drop, the slowly darkening, green-gray waters suddenly went to black. Surprised, I turned to ascend and noticed that the green layer was now above me, appearing like a gray-green cloudbank, and the water around me was clear. I glanced at my wrist mounted depth gauge; 21 feet. Bingo. I headed back to shore and as I exited the water, I overheard Chris commenting to Emory and Dan that “if this stays this way much deeper, then the whole trip is a bust. All I’m seeing is haze.” I walked up, still dripping and checked the depth of the rover on the monitor. The mini-rover was at 15 feet and comparatively blind. “Get below 21 feet and you’ll be fine.” I offered. Chris looked over at me skeptically and chimed in with Emory asking how I knew that. “Because I was just there and the layer stops at twenty-one feet.” As a grin came across Dan’s face, Chris went for the control joystick and put his mini-rover in a dive for 22 feet and almost unrestricted visibility.
IN REPOSE by Brian O’Connor
Excerpt 3 – From Epilogue
What remains of the U.S.S. ARIZONA presently sits on a coral shelf alongside Ford Island. She is embedded in fourteen feet of silt and mud, with a slight list to port. More importantly, no matter what condition she is in, she is now and will always be a national icon. The ship and her crew will continue to be visited by thousands on an annual basis. In that light, the National Park Service will continuously work to protect and preserve the remains. As this piece was being drafted, more dives were being performed for studies on corrosion and bio-fouling on the hull, clear down to the microbial factors in the corrosion process. I have been asked by a number of people over the years, just how long ARIZONA will last. Will her impending structural collapse release hundreds of gallons of her remaining fuel to the harbor and create an ecological nightmare? Will that collapse bring about the apathy dealt to so many ancient battlegrounds and cemeteries? These are questions that I cannot answer. Many of our supposedly treasured sites, including colonial period and American Civil War battlefields have been lost to development, and thus on the way to erasure from our memory. I will remain optimistic that the continuing history of ARIZONA will not go that way. Fortunately, the ship is located on a naval base, and thus protected from development and indiscriminate treasure hunting, so even with the passing of America’s Greatest Generation we can and will continue the efforts to preserve the ship, the Memorial, and what it has come to represent.
As to that impending decay and collapse, yes it will happen eventually. But hopefully well into the future. With forethought and planning the event will be orderly and oil spillage will be contained. The National Park Service, aided by other entities, will devise an operational strategy to preclude any severe environmental impact as time goes on.
There are those who believe that the ship should be sealed in some gigantic sarcophagus or permanently dry-docked and artificially preserved for eternity. I for one do not believe that this is the answer. I tend more toward the ashes to ashes, dust to dust approach. Keep ARIZONA and her crew in our hearts and memories, but permit the hull to reduce in a natural process.
Though I am sure that the days of my diving this ship have come to an end, despite my interest in returning to her, I will continue to study her and the forces of her demise and try share that information with those who still care.