3 Replies Latest reply on Jul 29, 2021 5:35 PM by Ethan Kent

    What is the history behind decision to use these biblical verses?

    Jamie Stolper Newbie

      What is the history behind the decision to use the passage from the biblical book of Numbers 6:24-26 on the wall of the USS Arizona Memorial (and the earlier preliminary marker)?  The image below is of the original memorial plaque, erected before the large USS Arizona Memorial was built.  The last 3 lines of this are a mashup of verses 25 and 26 in Numbers chapter 6.  If I recall correctly, the entire 3 verses are engraved on a wall in the new memorial structure on the walkway in.  The 3 verses comprise what is known as The Priestly Blessing, said by the high priest Aaron to the entire Israelite nation, and has been used throughout the centuries by people of different faiths for comfort and inspiration.  I have been trying to find out why the designer of the memorials chose to use these biblical verses.


        • Re: What is the history behind decision to use these biblical verses?
          Alex Champion Scout

          Dear Jamie Stolper,


          Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


          According to the file for the USS Arizona in the National Archives Catalog, “On 7 March 1950, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet at that time, instituted the raising of colors over Arizona’s remains.” This daily raising and lowering of colors culminated in subsequent actions by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, who designated the site a shrine and memorial.


          We searched the National Archives Catalog and located Moving Images Relating to Military Activities, ca. 1947 - 1980 in the General Records of the Department of the Navy (Record Group 428) that include a film of Admiral Radford arriving at Pearl Harbor, the GROUND BREAKING CEREMONY AT PEARL HARBOR MEMORIAL & CEREMONIES ON USS ARIZONA, and the USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL DEDICATION Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The last two films are digitized and available for viewing using the Catalog. For more information about the non-digitized film, please contact the National Archives at College Park - Motion Pictures (RDSM) at mopix@nara.gov.


          Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDSM. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.


          Beginning in 1980, the administration of the Memorial was shared with the National Park Service and the Naval History and Heritage Command. Please contact them for further assistance.


          The architect of the USS Arizona Memorial was Alfred Preis. Since he designed several structures in Hawaii, was the state planning coordinator, and was the first executive director of the Hawaii State Foundation for Culture and the Arts, various records about him are housed at the Hawai’i State Archives. These records may include his thoughts and design of the memorial.


          We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!


          2 people found this helpful
            • Re: What is the history behind decision to use these biblical verses?
              Jamie Stolper Newbie

              Thank you so much for all this information, Alex.  I am going to continue to look into this, probably starting by checking out the records of the architect Alfred Preis.  I am going to be in Hawaii soon and will call to see if I can get into the Archives and have access to this material.  Thank you again!


              Do you know if there is a person at Pearl Harbor who is the archivist or historian there who might also have information about this?



                • Re: What is the history behind decision to use these biblical verses?
                  Ethan Kent Adventurer

                  Dear Jamie Stolper:


                  I'm not a professional historian or archivist myself (although I am helping with the online National Archives Catalog as a "Citizen Archivist" -- both working on transcriptions and trying to research persons, places, organizations, words, and things I see in documents at the Catalog -- and "subscribe" to updates to History Hub (although I've been "behind" somewhat in keeping up with them).


                  On the other hand, I'm Jewish (no longer going to synagogue, but I did when I was a boy).


                  I think that the key to the answer to your question may well be with architect Alfred Preis (although the somewhat-altered quotation sounds good as a memorial sentiment to Americans who died in service) -- and I disagree with you in describing the text on the monument [(a paraphrase of Numbers 6:25-26 asking for blessing to the dead described in the 3rd person rather than as "you" as in the original verses(] as a "mashup" (and these certainly are not "random" (you didn't say that, but I mean in the current sense of "just any") Biblical verses).


                  If you (Jamie Stolper, or anyone) does a search for "Priestly Blessing", you are likely to find out that these verses (prescribed as such in the Bible) -- with the preceding one -- are still used in the traditional Jewish liturgy (spoken by rabbis and/or cantors/service-leaders  , and (when they can be found) also by present-day Jews whose families have the tradition that they are "Cohen"s (not the last name, but the original Hebrew meaning of "priest"s (of the "priestly caste" as it is sometimes termed) -- who participate in this part of the service. (English-language Wikipedia's article "Priestly Blessing" gives the original Hebrew (my Hebrew isn't very good, but it seems to me that 2 Hebrew words are identical in the 2nd and 3rd verses of the blessing -- although the English-language translation of them seems to vary in the meaning of what is wished-for with G_d's "face" with respect to those being blessed) -- with an English-language translation. (So perhaps the 3rd verse might rightly be translated as it is seen on the Memorial) ; the article also explains (in some detail) traditional Jewish practice today with respect to the Priestly Blessing.)


                  I looked up architect Alfred Preis in English-language Wikipedia; he seems to have been born in Vienna, Austria in 1911 within a Jewish family, and only converted to Roman Catholic Christianity in 1936 (when he was an adult, when Hitler was already Chancellor in nearby Germany, and only 3 years before he himself felt compelled to flee to the US (in 1939) ).


                  (So Mr. Preiss may possibly have been translating from his native German, rather than from the original Hebrew (??) .)


                  I hope that you may find something in the records of the Memorial or in the archives of Mr. Preis which may give you a direct answer, but it is certainly possible that the choice of text came from Mr. Preis's memory of Jewish practice when he was growing up in Vienna.




                  Good Luck with your research; may you enjoy your (research) visit to Hawaii.


                  Ethan W. Kent ("EthanFromBellmore" at the National Archives Catalog and at History Hub).


                  PS: Thanks to Alex Champion for providing the information about Alfred Preis to Jamie Stolper and to me (which led me to look up Mr. Preis); I didn't mention your name because I could not see it (without using another tab or window) while I was drafting [most of] the words above).


                  Ethan W. Kent.


                  PPS to Jamie Stolper: Sorry that I didn't notice that you had already noted the connection of these verses with the Priestly Blessing; you may ignore part of what I said above concerning that (but I'd like you to pay attention to its importance in Jewish religious practice).


                  Ethan W. Kent/"EthanFromBellmore".