Proposals for memorials to honor those who died in the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began as early as 1943. In 1949, the Territory of Hawaii established the Pacific War Memorial Commission as a first step in memorializing the tragic attack. Admiral Arthur Radford, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, ordered a flagpole erected over the sunken battleship the USS Arizona soon afterwards.
In 1952 the Disable American Veterans (DAV) voted to sponsor the design and underwrite construction costs for a new memorial at Pearl Harbor as a "fitting tribute to the heroic navy dead." In his letter of support to the Secretary of Defense, Williams E. Mealer, Adjutant of the California Department, Disabled American Veterans wrote:"We intend that the unknown sailor, cast into the sea, shall be forever remembered" ... with an appropriate shrine. (Los Angeles Times. August 9, 1951) As the successful designer of the recently completed Al Jolson Memorial, Paul R. Williams was the natural choice for this important national monument.
Williams was officially selected at the DAV's national convention to design their "Grave of the Unknown Sailor." To cost approximately $75,000 the granite monument would "look out toward the partly submerged hulk of the battleship Arizona sunk by attacking Japanese planes." (Miami News. August 14, 1952) Williams' design included land and water components. Four circular pylons, each 35 feet high, anchored a curving pedestrian ramp that led to a floating buoy with the dedication plaque. An associated land structure would include three rooms to be used as chapels. It was hoped that the the funds would be raised by DAV chapters across the country. Jet published a copy of the Williams' rendering in the September 18, 1952 issue. (image 1)
Paul R. Williams is shown in this 1952 Los Angeles Herald Examiner photograph (image 2) with two officers of the DAV on their way to the official groundbreaking ceremonies in Hawaii for the proposed memorial. The ceremony took place at 7:55 AM on December 7, eleven years to the minute that the Japanses struck the islands touching off the United State's entry into World War II. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette. December 8, 1952) A crowd of 350, including top civilian and military officials, attended the solemn early morning observance. A dramatic fly-over by military planes ended the ceremony.