Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arky: The Saga of the USS Arkansas

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arky: The Saga of the USS Arkansas

Article excerpt

Arky: The Saga of the USS Arkansas. By Ray Hanley and Steven Hanley. (Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2015. Pp. 167. Foreword by Anthony A. Sirco, afterword, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95, paper.)

Between its commissioning in 1912 and its sinking as part of the infamous Bikini atomic tests of 1946, the battleship U.S.S. Arkansas participated in the occupation of Veracruz in 1914, patrolled the east coast during World War I, and provided gunfire support for amphibious landings on Normandy, southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa during World War II. Ray Hanley and the late Steven Hanley, known for their extensive work in local Arkansas history, deliver an affectionate account of the career of the late dreadnought in this brief volume.

Arky provides even coverage of the major incidents in the Arkansas's service record. In relating the events of World War II, the authors have relied extensively upon excerpts from journals kept by crewmen aboard the ship. The eighth chapter, "Sacrificed to the Dawn of the Atomic Age," which deals with the ship's demise during the Bikini tests, is the most poignant and disturbing chapter of the book. The Arkansas was part of a sacrificial fleet subjected by the U.S. Navy to two separate atomic explosions in July 1946. The Arkansas survived the first bomb, which detonated about five hundred feet in the air, though the ship suffered fire and other damage. The second blast, which exploded underwater, occurred several days later and sent the Arkansas to the bottom of the lagoon.

The story of the atomic tests at Bikini is a melancholy one and not only-or even mainly-because of the destruction of the Arkansas. The authors are rightly critical of the U.S. government's removal of the island's people to locations that were scarcely habitable. Moreover, the Navy opted to return crewmen to the ships that survived the first attack in order to clean up and make repairs. Unfortunately, it did not provide the men with protective suits to shield them from the radiation that permeated the vessels. While the Hanleys concede that "the world had scant experience at that point with the aftermath of an atomic bomb," they nevertheless observe: "In a retrospective reading decades later, it challenges logic that in a ship just damaged by an atomic bomb, the engineers were to 'Make the machinery operable, with priority to lights and ventilation' among other assignments-all this so that the surviving and somewhat restored ships could then be likely finished off by the planned second atomic bomb" (p. …

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