Diocesan News

Steel From USS Arizona to be Pressed Into ‘Freedom Medals’ in Woodside

The Battleship USS Arizona launched in 2015 from Brooklyn Navy Yards. This view from the Manhattan Bridge shows Arizona returning from its sea trials in December 2016. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

WOODSIDE The lethal bomb that came down from the sky on December 7, 1941, piercing the armored deck of the USS Arizona and engulfing it in an inferno during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is something Lauren Bruner never forgot.

The attack killed 1,177 sailors, officers, and Marines aboard the battleship. Bruner, a sailor, was among the 335 survivors, but was far from unscathed, as burns covered 73% of his body. He eventually healed and returned to service. Several decades later, after years of trying to forget the war, he vowed to honor his fellow crewmen, both casualties and survivors.

Lauren Bruner was a 21-year-old sailor from Washington State when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He settled in California after the war. Bruner died in 2019 at age 98. (Photo: Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation)

That finally happened Monday, March 28, in a small religious ceremony held at a Woodside metal stamping business to bless steel salvaged from the Arizona that will be pressed into thousands of copies of an award called the Medal of Freedom.

The Medal of Freedom is commissioned by the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation. Founded by Bruner, who died in 2019 at age 98, the foundation’s mission is to one day honor the crew with their own museum, share their stories with school kids, and help find housing solutions for contemporary Navy families.

In the ceremony, four clergymen prayed over sheets of some of the steel. Among them was Msgr. Thomas Machalski, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bayside, Queens. He said later that he had always had a profound appreciation for the U.S. military, but it grew stronger, “having touched that piece of history today.”

“I really do feel that sometimes we forget too easily the sacrifice that men and women who serve our country in the military make,” Msgr. Machalski said. “We have to keep this memory alive for the future generations. Whether it’s the modern military, 9/11, the Holocaust, we can’t let things like this be forgotten.” 

Msgr. Thomas Machalski (far left) was invited by members of the Port Washington (Long Island) Clergy Association to bless the steel to be used in the Medals of Freedom for the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation. Included were (from left of monsignor) Rev. Jackie Lynch, Mount Olive AME Church, Port Washington; Father John Lardas, Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church, Port Washington; and Rabbi Jodie Siff, Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, Plandome, Long Island. (Photo: Bill Miller)

Joining Msgr. Machalski in the blessings were Rabbi Jodie Siff, Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, Plandome, N.Y.; Rev. Jackie Lynch, Mount Olive AME Church, Port Washington, N.Y.; and Father John Lardas, Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church, Port Washington.

Richard Faulkner, associate director of the Torrance, Calif.-based foundation, said the Arizona’s crew comprised men from every state of the union and Canada. Among them were 72 New Yorkers; 54 died in the first 15 minutes of the attack.

Faulkner explained that the mission is to award the medals to help share the ship’s history. 

“Lauren Bruner’s vision was to honor his crew and share that legacy with everyone,” he said. “So a USS Arizona Medal of Freedom is going to be offered to anybody who would like to take home a piece of history and pass it down to the next generation.

“Parents can give it to kids or grandchildren, or teachers award them to students. We really want to make it so anybody would be able to share that.”

The salvaged steel has come full circle, of sorts. Baldwin Ribbon & Stamping of Woodside has the contract to make the medals. It is located about six miles from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the Arizona was built and launched.

The steel is from the Arizona’s “superstructure” which is the portion of a ship that extends above the deck. Launched in 1915, the ship was in service only 26 years when it was bombed on the day then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed it “will live in infamy.”

The Navy provided enough of the material for the foundation to make at least 20,000 medals, Faulkner said. Specifically, it is being made into a miniature “A” on each medal to represent Arizona.

“And this won’t deteriorate like the rest of the steel,” he added. “We’ve taken care to mix it into a stainless steel alloy.”

The rust-proof metal was pressed into sheets in Alabama. Each “A” for the medals will be stamped from those sheets.

“The wreckage has been sitting in a Navy yard rusting away for over 80 years,” Faulkner said. “Lauren thought that was a shame, and he wanted to be able to preserve that.”

For information about the foundation, visit ussaz.org.

The Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation has contracted Baldwin Ribbon & Stamping of Woodside, Queens to create thousands of copies of its Medal of Freedom. The gray piece of steel to the right of this prototype will form an “A” to be stamped onto the medal to represent the USS Arizona.  (Photo: Bill Miller)