CICERO – When the USS Arizona sank at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it took with it one of Cicero’s sons.
Chief Petty Officer Joseph Philips Steffan will be forever remembered with a memorial that includes a relic from the storied battleship that was sunk by Japanese dive bombers on what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy.”
The town of Cicero acquired the relic taken from the sunken battleship, which was placed in a memorial display that the town of Cicero Board of Trustees will soon permanently fix to the outside wall at the entrance of the Cicero Board Council Chambers.
The path to the relic was beat by Eddie Breck, a former Cicero resident and the nephew of Steffan.
“Years ago, I knew they cut the top section of the Arizona and put it on one of the islands,” he said. “I started thinking, ‘How could I find out how to get a piece of that for my uncle’s war memorial?’”
He had a brainstorm. He started calling travel agents in Hawaii who eventually led him to the U.S. Department of Parks in Hawaii. He soon got the answers he needed, as well as the necessary forms that he handed off to Cicero officials.
“The day I picked up a piece of the Arizona I cried,” he said.
Karen Toner, a niece of CPO Steffan, said her uncle’s death was traumatic for her grandparents and her mother.
“My grandmother was pretty sure he had not died because they had received mail from him Dec. 10,” Toner said. “That was quite troubling to them.”
Toner, who lives in Naperville, came to Cicero for its Dec. 7 , 2013, remembrance of the historic event, when the relic arrived.
“It was so ironic how it happened. They told us that a relic was coming, and in a few minutes the mailman delivered it,” she said.
Toner said she visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in person.
“Most people find it very awe-inspiring,” Toner said “But the one thing, to people who actually have someone there, there is always oil coming to the surface. To me, it was like his spirit. It’s still coming up since 1941.”
There were 43 sailors and Marines from Illinois who died on the Arizona. Only 334 out of a crew of 1,511 survived. Only 107 of the 1,511 crewmen who died were positively identified.