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Posted on May 9, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

A Visit to Pearl Harbor

By Brian King

Getting There:

Obviously you are going to have to make a significant effort to reach this distant battlefield, but if you find yourself in Hawaii for other reasons (as I did), this is the ONE area every military historian must visit.  Just make sure when you make your driving plans to the memorials you go to the USS Arizona memorial, and not just drive out to “Pearl Harbor.”  You may just end up at the military base, and get some light razzing from the Marines on guard duty who constantly have to turn away tourists like us who went to the wrong place!

Try to arrive as early as possible to the USS Arizona memorial so you can get on one of the first launches out to the actual site.  Not only do you get to wait in the cool of the day as you watch bus after bus of tourists arrive after you, but you also have the best chance of running into a few of the old veterans who were there in 1941, and who may share some of their stories as you wait in line.  Unfortunately, we realized this only after we were about to enter…so we missed any stories these gentlemen might have had.  However, these volunteers are by no means a sure thing, no matter what time you arrive.


USS Arizona Memorial

Much to our surprise, the memorial itself is 100% free.  Obviously you are encouraged to drop in a donation to help support their efforts, but it is really amazing that a site of this magnitude is free to the public.  I do recommend spending the US5.00 and get a portable headset so you can walk around to the displays, museum, and the monument itself and hear veterans’ stories and the explanations of a narrator and hear things in the comfort of your own earphones.  There are no guided tours provided by the US Park Service here, other than arranging to physically take you on the boat out to the site.

The entire memorial consists of the land piece (museum, gift shop, rest rooms, movie theatre, displays), and the water piece, which is the floating monument.  Before you can leave land, you are REQUIRED to watch a short historical documentary on the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was very well done.  I thought it was interesting that the film was very pragmatic, and steered away from painting the Japanese as evil men.  In my view this is important in continuing the healing process between the nations involved in the Second World War.  It certainly praises the men and women of the United States who perished or otherwise suffered in the attack…

After checking out the movie, you are released to the care of the US Navy as they ferry you out to the floating memorial.  As a prelude to your next tour destination, you will notice the USS Missouri sitting just south of the USS Arizona.  Obviously a fitting compliment, as the USS Arizona symbolizes the start of the war for the United States, while the Mighty Mo represents the end of that great conflict.

Once on the floating platform, you will immediately notice the oft-discussed oil blotches still rising from the wreckage.  The saying goes that the oil will continue to rise until the last of the surviving veterans join their comrades who perished during the original attack.  The Park Service does a good job of setting the mood for this hallowed ground, and I found that most of the 175 other people on the boat at the time were respectful.

USS Missouri hangs in the distance.  Inside the floating platform, you will be able to look straight down on the ship, and this is the place where you often see dignitaries/veterans/etc. dropping wreaths onto the tomb below.

More shots of the floating platform.  You will have about 10-15 minutes to make your way around, take pictures, read the memorial signs, and reflect upon the events that transpired here over 60 years ago.

At one end of the memorial is the wall of all those who went down with the ship.  Needless to say, the atmosphere in this room is very powerful and is worth spending a few minutes to take a picture, and read the names and soak it all in.

While you are winding down your self-tour (remember that headset!), you will note the line for the boat reforming as the next load of visitors approaches in the next launch.  Once they exit, it is your turn to re-board.  You should generally have enough time to take all the pictures you want, although if you’d like to hang about and reflect longer – you probably won’t have that option.  There are a LOT of boats coming!

Leaving the memorial can be powerful in both visual beauty and historical realization that those men buried at sea will always remain…

Once you get back to shore, you can turn around for another view of the entire Missouri-Arizona layout.

On the grounds you can walk about outside and look at plaques with the names of all the men, women and children (soldiers, airmen, marines, etc.) who fell during the battle.  It was sad to note the civilian deaths (including some very young children), as this was something that I had never really thought about.  The cost of war is well documented here.  Adjacent to the USS Arizona museum you can also visit the USS Bowfin submarine museum.

As you get ready to leave, take note of all the people milling about waiting for their time to go out on the launch.  Hardly a place to sit!

USS Bowfin and USS Missouri Memorials

Back at the USS Bowfin memorial you can climb aboard this World War II submarine, or just peruse the free outdoor museum/memorial.  Here you will find stone monuments dedicated to the 52 US submarines lost during the war, as well as the names of those men lost at sea.  Even if you don’t pay to go on the submarine, it is worth your time to stop by and pay respects here.

While at the Bowfin museum, you can purchase tickets to the USS Missouri memorial (purchased at the Bowfin ticket window).  You will then catch a trolley in front of the Bowfin museum which will take you out to Ford Island to the great ship.

Once at the USS Missouri, you will be on your own, and you can literally take all day to explore the ship.

If you are really lucky you can get your picture taken in front of the big guns without any other people in the shot.  Good luck!

Once you finish up outside (and maybe catch other vessels in the area steaming about!) you can head inside to check out the interior of the ship.

There are lots of areas to explore, and there is no telling how long you could wander about.  I was in somewhat of a hurry with my companions, so we only saw a sampling of the total ship.  Nonetheless, we did see a great deal inside!

Now back out on the aft deck, we can take in the ship from a new angle.  Apparently the ship hosts receptions and various functions on the aft, as there were several large tents erected while we were there.  Nice to grab some shade on those hot days!  If you are observant, you might also run into this tribute to the men and women of the US Marine Corps for service rendered during the service life of the Missouri.


You will undoubtedly also want to check in and see the spot where the Japanese surrendered in 1945.  Several displays are underneath a tent which commemorates the historic event.

We finished our tour by heading up as high as we could get to snap some pictures and look for the bridge.  Looking foreward, you can clearly see the white monument of the USS Arizona.

The core part of the bridge is encased in a thick ring of steel, presumably to withstand direct hits from enemy air and shipping.  It is pretty incredible to see how solid this area of the ship really was.  And of course, what would a visit to the bridge be without issuing a few orders of my own?

Given the late hour, I really thought I could order a pizza while on the bridge…but sadly no one ever answered my call!

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of the Pearl Harbor area.  It was certainly a worthy addition to our vacation in Oahu, Hawaii.  I really can’t imagine anyone interested in history not wanting to check out these two great ships, but if you are on the fence as to whether to trek out into the crowds to visit, I strongly urge you to do so.  Lots of interesting history to be explored and enjoyed, tempered with some solemn reflection of those who have given all so that we could live free.

March 2005

USS Arizona Memorial

USS Bowfin Museum (sorry, there is sound in this one!)

USS Missouri Memorial

1 Comment

  1. Salute! Thank you to all the angels her loss or lives not fight for freedom and thank God in this great country for their sacrifice.