As we head into the 3-day Memorial Day Weekend, a time that marks the official beginning of summer–cookouts, road trips and summer blockbusters–it’s also the time to remember and honor our fallen soldiers, those who have died defending our country. Towns will host parades featuring veterans of past wars; individuals will visit cemeteries to lay flowers on graves. These remembrance rituals aren’t as widespread as they used to be, which is a shame, because everyone deserves to be remembered after they’re gone, especially those who have laid down their lives for others.
When I was in Honolulu in February, I visited Pearl Harbor as an act of remembrance. I wanted to share my thoughts on the experience, though they are a bit disjointed and random. If nothing else, enjoy the photos.
Pearl Harbor is the most significant site in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Most people visit Pearl Harbor for the USS Arizona Memorial, but there is so much more to the complex. You can tour the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, as well as two Naval vessels. The first is the USS Bowfin, a fleet attack submarine, which was launched one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was nicknamed “the Pearl Harbor Avenger”.
The USS Missouri, “the Mighty Mo,” a battleship launched in 1944, is best known as the site of the surrender of Japan during WWII. It’s a good idea to visit the ship for the full Pearl Harbor experience; while the USS Arizona Memorial represents the start of US participation in WWII, the Missouri marks the end of the war in the Pacific Theater.
The Missouri participated in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa during WWII. During the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the ship was struck by a kamikaze pilot. The plane caused little damage, but the pilot was killed, his body found in the wreckage. Despite the fact that he was “the enemy,” the crew of the Missouri gave him a traditional and honorable military burial at sea.
Of course, no visit to Pearl Harbor would be complete without paying your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial. This Memorial honors those who lost their lives in one of the most tragic episodes of US history. Only a certain number of people can visit the Memorial at a time. Be sure to pick up a ticket as soon as you arrive at the Visitor Center (or make a reservation online). When the tickets run out, they run out. Before you head out to the Memorial, you’ll sit through a film about the events leading up to Pearl Harbor and what unfolded on the morning of December 7, 1941. It’s informative and moving.
The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted just 90 minutes, during which 7 of the fleet’s 9 battleships were heavily damaged or destroyed, crippling our fleet in the Pacific: the USS Oklahoma, the USS California, the USS West Virginia, the USS Utah, the USS Maryland, the USS Pennsylvania, the USS Tennessee, the USS Nevada, and the USS Arizona.
Of the 7, The Arizona represents the greatest loss of life aboard a warship in US history. A bomb hit the ship’s forward ammunition magazine, causing a massive explosion which sank it in less than 10 minutes. 2,400 people died during the attack on Pearl Harbor; of those, 1,177 were USS Arizona crew members who died when the ship sank. The ship now serves as their grave. Unlike most of the other ships that were sunk that day, the Arizona was so badly damaged, it could not be salvaged.
Prior to this event, the American people were ambivalent about the war. The attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized the country and prompted the US entry into WWII. It quite likely changed the course and outcome of that war–and the history of the world since then. So when you’re standing there at Pearl Harbor, thinking about the enormity of that moment in history and realizing This is where it all happened, it can be a little overwhelming.
An interesting fact that not many people realize unless they’ve visited the Memorial is that when it sank, the ship had about 500,000 gallons of oil in its tanks. That oil has been leaking at a rate of about 2 quarts a day for the past 70 years. Research is ongoing into the environmental impact of this. I’m not sure what, if anything can be done about it, but I hope something.
In the Shrine Room, the names of the Arizona‘s dead are memorialized on this wall.
As I left Pearl Harbor, I thought about the 70 years that have passed since this event and what good friends and allies the US and Japan are now. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? After the unthinkable atrocities we committed against one another (Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Nagasaki), who would ever have dreamed that forgiveness could be found, or friendship?
There are times when news of war and violence and hatred around the world leaves me in despair for the future of the human race. But when I think about our relationship with Japan, it gives me hope again. People can change. Enemies can become friends. Peace can be had. But maybe not without some painful sacrifices. We owe it to those who sacrificed to remember and honor them. Visiting Pearl Harbor should be a must-do on any Oahu visitor’s itinerary.
What you need to know about visiting Pearl Harbor
- USS Missouri: $22 with optional tour
- USS Bowfin: $10
- Pacific Aviation Museum: $20
- USS Arizona Memorial: Free, but tickets are limited on a first-come, first-serve basis.
You are not allowed to carry bags of any kind into the site. There is a bag check facility off to the right before you enter where you can check your bags for $3/bag. You can, of course, bring your camera and take photos.
Most sites within the complex are within easy walking distance, but if you want to tour the USS Missouri or the Pacific Aviation Museum, you’ll have to catch a shuttle bus to Ford Island (it’s quick).
How long will it take? Half a day to see a couple of things, a full day to see everything.
How to get there: From Waikiki/Honolulu, drive west on King Kamehameha Highway for about 45 minutes. Or sign up for a tour that includes transportation from Waikiki. Or take public transportation. I took the #42 bus (#20 is also good) from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor. It dropped me off right outside the Visitor Center in the parking lot. To catch the return bus, I had to walk a short distance up to the highway and wait at the bus shelter there. The bus ride is almost an hour each way.
For more information go to the National Park Service website.
My thanks to the Anthology Marketing Group, Nathan Kam, and Tyler Kruse for providing me with a complementary pass to the USS Missouri during my visit to Honolulu.