FACT CHECK: Does This Image Show An Underwater American Flag At Pearl Harbor Being Replaced?

Trevor Schakohl | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Twitter and Facebook purportedly shows a diver at Pearl Harbor replacing an American flag displayed underwater.

Verdict: False

The photo was not taken at Pearl Harbor, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Instead, it likely shows a flag on an intentionally-sunken former military ship in the Florida Keys.

Fact Check:

The NPS manages the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Oahu, Hawaii. The hulls of the USS Arizona and USS Utah, both of which sank in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, remain in the harbor, according to the NPS website.

The image of a scuba diver unfurling an American flag attached to an underwater structure has circulated on Twitter and Facebook this month. Some social media users claimed in text accompanying the picture that it shows the replacement of an underwater flag at Pearl Harbor every three years by a diver.

“The National Park Service does not maintain flags underwater on the ship,” NPS Public Information Officer Emily Pruett told Check Your Fact in an email. “This picture, was not taken at the USS Arizona or in Pearl Harbor.”

American flags fly from above-water flag poles at the memorials for the USS Arizona and USS Utah, as seen in NPS photos. (RELATED: Did McDonald’s Remove Its American Flags Nationwide In Support Of Antifa And Black Lives Matter)

While Check Your Fact was unable to find the original source of the underwater photo, it likely shows a flag displayed at the wreck of the USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. The military vessel was decommissioned in 1986 and intentionally sunk in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 2009 to create an artificial reef, according to CNN.

The diving magazine X-Ray Mag published several years ago a similar photo of an American flag attached to the kingpost of the Vandenberg.  Southpoint Divers, a Key West-based dive shop, has posted other pictures of divers swimming near an American flag attached to the structure on the Vandenberg that matches the kingpost in the image being shared online.

In a Columbia Missourian article, Check Your Fact also found an Associated Press photo depicting divers deploying a flag on the Vandenberg in 2014 to pay tribute to those who served on the ship.

The South Florida Reporter in 2019 uploaded a video, credited to the Florida Keys News Bureau, to Vimeo that captures a large American flag being attached to what appears to be the same metal structure on the Vandenberg wreck on Memorial Day that year. Other footage posted on Vimeo about seven years ago shows a flag being placed on the ship’s kingpost, as well.

Scott Atwell, the communications and outreach manager for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, provided Check Your Fact a statement from its maritime heritage specialist, who agreed the photo in question “appears to be a flag hung from Vandenberg and not at Pearl Harbor.”

“Diving in Pearl Harbor, particularly on the USS Arizona is strictly limited. The visibility is also quite limited,” the maritime heritage specialist noted. “At FKNMS we don’t promote the display of flags on our artificial reef wrecks that were formerly naval vessels. They degrade and become marine debris and can disturb the marine life growing on the ships.”

Footage of the intentional sinking of the Vandenberg can be found on YouTube.

Trevor Schakohl

Fact Check Reporter
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