An Ontario lab is helping to make medals from a sunken Pearl Harbor battleship

·5 min read
Philippe Dauphin, director general of CanmetMATERIALS, holds a piece of steel ingot from the USS Arizona. Medals of Freedom are being created from the steel to mark the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. (Natural Resources Canada - image credit)
Philippe Dauphin, director general of CanmetMATERIALS, holds a piece of steel ingot from the USS Arizona. Medals of Freedom are being created from the steel to mark the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. (Natural Resources Canada - image credit)

A Hamilton laboratory is helping mark the 80th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in a project it says will bring its work "full circle."

The laboratory, operated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), is unique in North America — one of the few places that can roll steel from the USS Arizona, one of the battleships that sank during the 1941 attack on the island of Oahu, and help turn it into a USS Arizona Medal of Freedom.

The research centre will roll four ingots down to sheets, from which the medals will be laser cut.

"Six Canadians were part of the crew of USS Arizona. Five of them perished in the attack and the sixth one went on to fight another day," Philippe Dauphin, director general at the CanmetMATERIALS lab, told CBC Hamilton.

"So for us, it connects Canada back to its history, it connects the laboratory to its origins, and it's an opportunity for us to remember the period when these kinds of destruction were possible and hopefully will come to an end."

CanmetMATERIALS is inside McMaster Innovation Park on Longwood Road South.

WATCH: USS Arizona ingot rolling at CanmetMATERIALS in Hamilton:

According to NRCan, one of the last surviving crew members of the Arizona, Lauren Bruner, established a non-profit — the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation — to honour those who were aboard the ship on the morning of the Japanese attack on U.S. military installations in Hawaii.

The U.S. navy gave Bruner steel from the Arizona, which has been submerged in Pearl Harbor since it sank. Bruner left the steel to the foundation, NRCan said, adding the material is being used to create the medals.

Dauphin said the foundation will sell or give the medals to "people who contribute to the foundation," making it "the first and only time" that steel from the ship will be available to ordinary citizens — for $1,000 US a piece, he said.

"[Their] objective is to remember the 1,177 men who perished that morning."

Until now, the Navy had only made the steel available to museums, he added.

'It connects us back to our history'

While the foundation was able to find a mill in Alabama to melt the steel and incorporate stainless steel alloys to create the ingots, a small-scale rolling mill was needed to roll these ingots down to sheets that are one-sixteenth of an inch (nearly 1.6 mm) thick. The foundation went on a search for a place to roll their steel and found the CanmetMATERIALS research centre.

"It's ordinary steel that would rust, so it was burned into stainless steel by adding chromium and nickel in the steel mill in the southern U.S.," Dauphin said.

"But they couldn't find a place to roll the steel down. It needs to be hot rolled first, quenched and then cold rolled to a thickness of one-sixteenth of an inch, and they couldn't find a rolling mill anywhere in the U.S. that could do this fairly quickly.

"So they approached us ... In a way it connects us back to our history because [the research centre was] created in 1942 to help Canada with the war effort," Dauphin added.

Natural Resources Canada
Natural Resources Canada

Dauphin said they received four plates and one was used for a test roll — hot rolling — to ensure all the parameters were appropriate.

"When we were able to roll the steel without damaging it or cracking it, we set the parameters and then we rolled two more plates.

"On Dec. 7, the last plate will be rolled. USS Arizona was sunk by only a single bomb that struck its munitions magazine at precisely 8:05 a.m., Pearl Harbor time.

"So what we're going to do is keep the plate to 1,200 degrees [Celsius] and take it out at exactly 2:05 p.m. [ET] on the seventh of December. It will be 80 years to the minute from that bomb strike, which sunk the ship," Dauphin said.

Natural Resources Canada
Natural Resources Canada

'Like rolling pizza dough'

One of the scientists working on the project, Fateh Fazeli, said the pilot scale rolling mill is unique in North America.

"In CanmetMATERIALS, we have a unique facility and perhaps the only place in North America that could [do this] process," Fazeli told CBC News.

"[It's like having] pizza dough and then you have a roller, you flatten it, and make it thinner and thinner. We do a similar thing with metal."

Fazeli said he was one of the lead technical people to determine the specifications for the mill after the lab relocated to Hamilton from Ottawa in 2012.

Submitted by Fateh Fazeli
Submitted by Fateh Fazeli

He said he thought then that the mill's only role would be to provide services to the industrial sector.

"At that time, I couldn't imagine at some point this mill could play a much more valuable or different type of role and contribution to society, for example, honouring peacekeepers or preserving history," Fazeli said.

"For me, from the beginning of this project about a month ago, when I noticed that this mill can contribute to these different aspects to Canadian society, I was very impressed, and I was very keen to be a part of it and contribute more in not only science, but also in preserving history and honouring some heroes and peacekeepers into society."

Fazeli said he and his colleagues are "honoured to be a small part of this project, and we are very glad that we could make some small contribution to preserving history and honouring our heroes."

Role in Canada's clean-energy future

Dauphin said CanmetMATERIALS has also been playing a big role on the clean energy front.

"We're unique in the sense that we develop advanced materials to help with Canada's clean energy future with the latest conference of parties [COP26] and the commitments that Canada made to reduce our emissions by 2035 and then to go net-zero [emissions] by 2050," he said.

The centre's website says it works with vehicle manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency, for instance, as well as the energy sector.

"The challenges will be enormous and laboratories like the one I manage ... allow Canada to position themselves, re-evaluate technologies that will make it possible for Canada to have electricity production without emissions, and to reduce emissions from its transportation sector and eventually come to the net-zero commitment that our prime minister made."

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