As in the rest of the country, you can find a number of WWII sites in Phoenix, Arizona (and the surrounding areas of Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe) that showcase the pride the United States has for its past generations.
Arizona being the namesake of the ship most associated with the start of the war (for Americans) and Phoenix being the capital means there is no shortage of World War II history to explore in the area.
WWII sites in Phoenix, Arizona (and thereabouts)
The sites you’ll find here range from memorials and museums to some seriously noteworthy historical artifacts. Here are 17 of the WWII sites in Phoenix (plus Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe) to visit on your next trip to Arizona.
1. Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza – Phoenix
The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza is located just outside the Arizona Capitol Building in downtown Phoenix. Established in 1978, it consists of many memorials honoring World War II (but also a number of other conflicts and causes as well). Here at Wesley Boling Memorial Plaza you’ll find:
Main World War II Memorial
This is the most prominent of the memorials at Bolin Plaza. It consists of:
A path of limestone historical markers consisting of 400 1” sections. Each section represents 1,000 lives and thus the path is meant to symbolize the more than 400,000 American servicemen and women who died during the war.
Nine blue steel pillars down the middle in the shape of a battleship’s hull to honor the 1,902 servicemen and women from Arizona who fought and died in World War II. The number 9 represents the 9 minutes it took the USS Arizona to sink after being attacked at Pearl Harbor.
A 16-inch gun barrel from the Battleship Missouri, now docked at Pearl Harbor and once serving as the location for Japan’s signing of the surrender documents. This gun saw action in the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
A 14-inch gun barrel from the USS Arizona that was not on the ship when it sank in the Pearl Harbor attack but that was installed on another ship and used in the D-Day invasions.
2. USS Arizona Memorials
Though the USS Arizona still rests below the surface at Pearl Harbor, a handful of its parts remain here at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza:
USS Arizona anchor
One of the anchors from the USS Arizona stands here at the prominent end location surrounded by a series of memorial plaques. These display the names of “the gallant men who gave their lives on December 7, 1941 on the Battleship U.S.S. Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
USS Arizona Signal Mast
After the Battleship Arizona sunk at Pearl Harbor, its signal mast, part of the superstructure that remained above the water line, was removed and eventually found its way to Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. There is an informational placard that tells the story of how this happened.
3. Arizona Silent Service Memorial
New to Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in 2021 is the Arizona Silent Service Memorial. Definitely the most colorful memorial at the site, this monument pays tribute to “those who served this great nation in the silent service of military submarines in the U.S. Navy.”
It features a breaching submarine on top of a blue ocean wave and includes memorial plaques honoring the many World War II submarine veterans from Arizona.
Also check out: WWII Sites in Orlando, Florida (and Thereabouts): 11 Museums and Memorials
Also at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza you’ll find memorials to:
4. The 4th Marine Division memorial
This memorial honors those who served in the 4th Marine Division during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. This division participated in four major amphibious landings: Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.
For more on the accomplishments of the 4th Marine Division in World War II, check out this thorough document published by the U.S. Marine Corps.
5. Jewish War Veterans Memorial
Erected in May of 1950, Phoenix’s Jewish War Veterans Memorial honors “Arizonans of the Jewish faith who gave their lives in the service of our country in World War II.” This memorial plaque also contains their names.
6. Navajo Code Talkers Memorial
The Navajo Code Talkers Memorial at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza honors the incredible Navajo men who used the unwritten Navajo language to develop the only unbreakable code in military history. This is one of two monuments honoring the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. (I describe the other one below.)
The CIA website has a great historical rundown of the Navajo Code Talkers if you’d like to read more information about this fascinating aspect of World War II.
7. Purple Heart Recipients Memorial
Wesley Bolin’s Purple Heart Memorial (also known as the Combat Wounded Veterans Memorial) was dedicated in 1999 to “those who shed their blood in defense of our country.” Surrounding it is a path of engraved commemorative brick pavers.
8. Bushmasters Memorial
This memorial honors the World War II service of the 158th Regimental Combat Team of the Arizona National Guard who fought under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. This team was known as the Bushmasters and, according to Army history, was made up of mostly Mexican Americans and North American Indians from 20 different tribes.
During World War II, the Bushmasters participated in the Pacific campaigns of: New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Luzon. You can find more background on the Bushmasters here.
9. American Merchant Seamen Memorial
The American Merchant Seamen Memorial is “dedicated to the American Merchant Seamen who in the time of national crisis, have rallied to battle enemy mines, submarines, and planes while building a ‘bridge of steel’ for supplies across the seas to our troops and their allies.”
In World War II alone, the enemy sunk 731 merchant ships resulting in the deaths of 6,839 merchant seamen and more than 1,800 U.S. Navy personnel.
10. Battle of the Bulge/Ardennes Veterans memorial
The Battle of the Bulge/Ardennes Veterans Memorial at Wesley Bolin Plaza honors the men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge/Ardennes campaign from December 1944 to January 1945.
11. Arizona Military Museum – Phoenix
Fifteen minutes east of Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza you’ll find the Arizona Military Museum, operated by the Arizona National Guard Historical Society. This museum focuses on the contributions of “the Militia of Arizona and the Arizona National Guard to the State of Arizona and to the Nation.”
While this museum explores Arizona military history all the way from the Spanish Colonial period (1528-1848) to today, much of it does focus on World War II. You’ll find information here on:
- The attack at Pearl Harbor
- The 158th Infantry Regiment known as the Bushmasters
- Native American code talkers (not just Navajo, but also the contributions of the Hopi tribe)
- The German submarine POWs that were held at a camp in nearby Papago Park
The Arizona Military Museum is located at 5636 E. McDowell Rd in Phoenix. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00-4:00pm.
12. National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona – Phoenix
The National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona is also known as the Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery and contains more than 43,000 the graves. Among these are those of:
- Sidney Bedoni – the last surviving Navajo Code Talker paratrooper
- Richard Dooley – former Navajo Code Talker in the Pacific Theater
- Arthur J. Hubbard Sr. – former Navajo Code Talker and the first American Indian elected as Arizona state senator
- Joe Kellwood – Navajo Code Talker at Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, and Okinawa
- Robert “Bert” Tallsalt – Navajo Code Talker, councilman, educator
This is one of only two national cemeteries in the state.
13. WWII Submarine Torpedo Monument
In addition to a number of veterans’ graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona you’ll also find the World War II Submarine Torpedo Monument. This monument honors the 3,505 U.S. Navy submarine veterans who “paid heavily for their success in World War II” aboard 52 U.S. submarines.
You’ll also see a plaque dedicated to U.S. submarine veterans from the USS Perch (“scuttled by her crew March 3, 1942”) and includes the names of those who died in POW camp. A submarine torpedo sits atop the memorial.
The National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona is located at 23029 North Cave Creek Road in Phoenix and is open to visitors daily from sunrise to sunset.
14. Navajo Code Talkers Memorial – Phoenix
In addition to the Navajo Code Talkers monument at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, there is another, similar, monument in its own dedicated space.
Located in the plaza at the corner of E. Thomas Rd. and N. Central Ave. is the Navajo Code Talkers Memorial which features a similar looking statue to the one I mentioned above. This version, sculpted by Doug Hyde, himself a veteran of Nez Perce heritage, depicts a Code Talker in a sitting position holding a flute.
You might like: 9 Tips for Visiting the SS American Victory – Tampa’s Hidden WWII Gem
15. Commemorative Air Force Museum – Mesa
Next, head about 30-minutes east to the town of Mesa where you’ll find Airbase Arizona and the Commemorative Air Force Museum. This awesome museum has loads of exhibits and historical aircrafts, many from World War II.
They offer flights in many of their historical aircrafts but will still let you tour the planes on the ground if you don’t quite have the funds for such an adventure. During my visit I was able to tour:
- C-47 Skytrain, “Old Number 30” – Used in the rescue mission Operation Halyard in Yugoslavia, the basis for the book The Forgotten 500. (Incredible book, by the way! I was very excited to be able to go into ones of the planes I’d read so much about.)
- B-17 Flying Fortress, “Sentimental Journey” – Flew WWII missions in the Pacific and still flies today
They also have many World War II exhibits throughout the museum as well as outside in the hangar, such as:
- Tuskegee Airmen
- Operation Halyard
- Pearl Harbor
- World War II flight training
- And many, many more.
There is a lot to see here so give yourself a couple of hours so you don’t miss anything. The Commemorative Air Force Museum at Airbase Arizona is located at 2017 N. Greenfield Rd in Mesa and is open Wednesdays – Saturdays only, 10am-4pm. You can find more visiting info here.
16. Arizona Heritage Center – Tempe
Head back west to Tempe where you’ll find the Arizona Heritage Center, operated by the Arizona Historical Society. This museum explores all of Arizona’s history and heritage, with a special emphasis on World War II.
You’ll get to “see World War II through the eyes of Arizonans” and even check out special featured exhibits like “Rebuilding Home Plate – Baseball in Arizona’s Japanese American Incarceration Camps.” (New in 2023)
The Arizona Heritage Center is located at 1300 N. College Ave. in Tempe and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am-2pm.
17. USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River – Scottsdale
Just a short drive north from the Arizona Heritage Center is the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River in Scottsdale. This unique memorial consists of a 5-acre development that contains a piece of the USS Arizona’s original boathouse from Pearl Harbor.
It is dedicated to the men who were aboard the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Each year on this date the memorial hosts special National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day commemorations. (The B-17 “Sentimental Journey” even makes an appearance!)
The entire memorial gardens were built around the boathouse relic which is viewable to the public. From above, the design of the gardens reflects the outline of the ill-fated battleship, formed by 1,500 commemorative columns. (Maybe see if you can spot it from a hot-air balloon?) The memorial also features stacked metal memorial blocks that include the names of the deceased and pavers with quotes from survivors.
USS Arizona Memorial Gardens is located at 7455 North Pima Rd in Scottsdale. It is free to visit and open to the public from sunrise to sunset.
WWII Sites in Phoenix: recommended reading
Before your trip to see these WWII sites in Phoenix (and thereabouts), dig a little deeper into the history you’ll be learning about with these recommended books and movies:
Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson (2016) – A deep dive into the events of December 7, 1941 based on newly recovered information.
Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions by Alan Zimm (2013) – Comprehensive and well-reviewed assessment of the events surrounding the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II by Gregory A. Freeman (2008)– Incredible true story of a secret mission to rescue Allied troops from behind enemy lines.
Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez (2012) – I think the title says it all, no?
Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers by Deanne Durrett (2009) – Find out more about this fascinating history in this book.
Arizona Goes to War: The Home Front and the Front Lines During World War II by Brad Melton and Dean Smith (2003) – All about the recruits from Arizona who joined the war, the military installations that developed all over the state, Arizona’s Japanese internment centers, the Native Americans who enlisted, and how ordinary citizens contributed to the home front.
WWII Sites in Phoenix: recommended viewing
Windtalkers (movie, 2002) – This fictionalized account of World War II’s Navajo Code Talkers stars Nicolas Cage and was directed by John Woo. Though it is fiction, some actual Navajo Code Talkers say it’s about 75% accurate.
Memphis Belle in Color (documentary, 2019) – “The story of the B-17s of WWII, the airmen who flew them, and the most famous bomber of all – the Memphis Belle.” Great documentary on B-17s as a whole.
Where to stay in the Phoenix area
To help you plan your visit to the WWII sites in Phoenix, check out these great places to stay in the Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale/Tempe areas:
Scottsdale Plaza Resort & Villas – I stayed here on my latest visit to the Phoenix area in 2022 and loved it. Beautiful property with tons of amenities and big rooms. Great location north of Scottsdale that’s a bit “away from it all” but actually very close.
Hotel Valley Ho (also Scottsdale) – I stayed here in 2019 and absolutely fell in love with it. The entire place is awash in a mid-century modern theme that’s perfect for history nerds like us. The restaurant here is phenomenal.
More info for your visit to the WWII sites in Phoenix
- Pick up an Arizona guidebook here for the rest of your sightseeing needs.
- Need a rental car? Check out the best Phoenix-area deals here.
- What else is there to do in the area? Check out this post on how to spend 4 days in Scottsdale.
- Check out fun local tours and excursions here on Viator and Get Your Guide.
Which WWII sites in Phoenix will you visit?
Let me know below!
Save this info, pin this image: