A pair of brass letters believed to have come from a small vessel associated with the U.S.S. Arizona will be sent on Monday to the Pearl Harbor Memorial
A pair of brass letters believed to have come from a small vessel associated with the U.S.S. Arizona will be sent on Monday to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum and Visitor Center. The letters are pictured Saturday in Farmington. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — A Farmington resident is trying to give back a piece of history.

Kelly McClellan, who lives in Farmington, inherited two letters, which, according to family stories, his grandfather and two great-uncles took from the wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In the 1940s, Kelly McClellan's grandfather, Morris McClellan, and great-uncles, Howard and Harvey McClellan, were working for Morrison-Knudsen, a civil engineering and construction company that worked on major infrastructure projects throughout the world.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Morrison-Knudsen sent the three McClellan brothers to Hawaii to help with the clean up and rebuilding of the harbor.

While there, the brothers, who had both previously served in the military, collected two souvenirs -- the brass A and Z letters that had once decorated a boat associated with the U.S.S. Arizona.

The U.S.S. Arizona was a Navy ship stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. The ship exploded and sank. More than 1,000 officers and crewmen on board the ship died during the attack.

The ship could not to be salvaged, and most of it is still at the bottom of the harbor, although pieces of the ship were removed and reused.

Currently, a memorial is located at the site where the U.S.S. Arizona sank, straddling the hull of the ship.

Around a month ago, Kelly McClellan's father -- who inherited the letters from his father, Morris McClellan -- gave his son the letters.

Kelly McClellan approached his childhood friend and former U.S. Navy Master Chief Chuck Banks to discuss what to do with the letters.

"You're almost afraid to touch them," Banks said, while holding the two brass letters, in his Farmington home.

Chuck Banks on Saturday at his home in Farmington holds the letters A and Z he claims were taken off a small vessel associated with the U.S.S. Arizona,
Chuck Banks on Saturday at his home in Farmington holds the letters A and Z he claims were taken off a small vessel associated with the U.S.S. Arizona, which sank after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

He said when Kelly McClellan told him about the letters, he got goose bumps. The men decided to donate the letters to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum and Visitor Center.

Banks started contacting former Navy chiefs who put him in touch with Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service at the Pearl Harbor museum. Martinez and Banks worked out the details of getting the letters to Hawaii. Banks said he is mailing the letters to Hawaii via FedEx on Monday.

Once they reach Hawaii, historians will determine the letters' authenticity, though Banks said authorities are fairly certain the letters are legitimate.

Banks believes the letters were probably not on the U.S.S. Arizona itself, but on one of the smaller boats used to transport people from the main ship to the shore.

Banks said Navy vessels are equipped with two boats, one for the captain and other officers and another for crew members.

He thinks the letters were probably salvaged in early 1942.

Kelly McClellan said the letters were originally painted, but, as a child, he took the paint off to see the brass underneath. He said the two letters had been sitting at his parents' house in Cortez, Colo., for years.

"I just decided to give them back to where they needed to be," he said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.