Monday, February 20, 2023

Pearl Harbor Wednesday February 1, 2023

The USS Arizona Memorial
When visiting the island of Oahu, a visit to Pearl Harbor is necessary. Pearl Harbor is somewhat of a misnomer because 'Pearl Harbor' is an expansive working harbor north and east of Honolulu.  The historical area is actually the Pearl Harbor National Monument, which includes of the USS Arizona Memorial and its accompanying visitor center.  This is usually what people are talking about when they say they saw Pearl Harbor.

In the same area is the USS Bowfin, a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII.  The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri Memorial, the battleship on which the terms of surrender of Japan were signed, are on nearby Ford Island and are accessible by free shuttle.  These three require separate admission.  The Bowfin is $22, the Aviation Museum is $26, and the USS Missouri is $35.  They all have their own websites through which you can purchase tickets  You really can't do them all plus the USS Arizona Memorial in one day.  You can, but you would be pretty tired, and you would be hurried.  Anyway, we were on the 8:45am boat to the USS Arizona.  After we completed this and the visitor center we saw only the USS Missouri which took about two additional hours. After that we were beat..and hungry.


The actual USS Arizona Memorial requires a ticketed boat ride.  Every 30 minutes a boat takes 75 visitors to the memorial which is built directly over the sunken battleship.  Tickets are free, with a $1 reservation fee (you really can't beat that deal) and include the visitor center. Tickets must be purchased through the National Park service's website, Tickets are released at 3pm HST 8 weeks in advance.  A second release occurs 24 hours in advance.  Now I was warned that this ticket was a hot commodity and that I needed to get right on it to ensure my date and time.  I bought the tickets 8 weeks in advance, though not precisely at 3 pm HST, and had no trouble.  Today I looked at what was available in 8 weeks and there is quite a bit left.  It's only sold out for about the next four weeks, so it does seem you have some flexibility-it's not like Hanauma Bay. Through the same website you can get an audio tour narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis for $8.  We did get this as I heard it was worthwhile.  It's good, though in hindsight, not essential.  What I will say is that if you do purchase the audio tour, you should pick it up immediately.  We thought it was just for the visitor center itself, but there are stations on the outdoor grounds and also at the USS Arizona Memorial.

The parking at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center site is free.  They are also extremely strict about what you can take onto the premises.  No purses. No backpacks.  I had my phone in my pocket and that was it.

Ok.  Back to the USS Arizona Memorial.  The experience is very moving from the very start.  First, the tour group sits in a small auditorium where a gentleman seriously shares what is about to be experienced.  He sadly reported that every day people come to this sight with no idea about what happened here.

This might be a good place to mention how little I knew and how much I learned about what went down in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941.  Twenty four hundred Americans lost their lives that day, including 68 civilians.  The attack was a complete surprise.  Most of the men were below deck or still in their beds.  The Japanese sunk 12 ships, including 8 battleships, and damaged another 7 vessels, most of which were repaired and later sent back into service.  The American government was in active talks with the Japanese government up to the day before the attack, an effort to avoid war.  They knew that a Japanese attack was imminent, but were not able to discern from where it might come.  The battleships were parked in the harbor in pairs, and the aircraft were parked wing to wing, making them both particularly susceptible during the attack. The entire attack took one hour and 15 minutes.  The Japanese lost 129 soldiers.

Many were rescued in the valiant efforts of the survivors over the next several hours.  Two aircraft carriers usually stationed at Pearl Harbor were out on exercises in the Pacific.  Also somehow spared were fuel tanks. It is said that if these had been blown up, the impact of Pearl Harbor might have been far more dismal.

1177 men died on the USS Arizona alone after the ship was hit with an armor piercing bomb shortly after 8 in the morning. Of these men, 1102 remain with the sunken ship and are considered to be buried at sea. 

The boat takes you to the memorial where you remain for about 15 minutes, or about the time it takes for the boat to go back and get the next group. The respect shown by those working the site and those visiting is encouraging--no selfies or loud laughing--thank God.   There is a room at the end with a wall carved with the names of those who perished there. Forty three survivors have joined their brothers in the sea following their deaths in the years since the attack, and their names are also added. The area is a somber site without a doubt.  The completely visible sunken ship still bleeds oil today, more than 80 years later.

The names of those lost on the Arizona

The memorial is built right over the sunken boat

Upon returning to the center, it is well worth the time to watch the 23 minute video. "Pearl Harbor: the Death of the USS Arizona," narrated by actress Stockard Channing.  The film really puts everything into perspective.  I really have no idea how some of these films were obtained of recovered, but it is extremely well done and informative.

The visitor center is small but also so informative.  There is excellent documentation of the circumstances leading up to the attack, the details of actual attack, and the immediate aftermath and recovery.  On the grounds closer to the water are the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Circle, which lists the names of all those that lost their lives on that day and on what vessels, including those in lesser known areas also attacked that day, such as Hickam Field and the Naval Air Field at Kaneohe Bay.  There is also a circle dedicated to those who survived, also separated by vessel.


The Mighty Mo

As mentioned above, the USS Missouri, or the 'Mighty Mo' as it is commonly referred to, is it's own sight and is parked on Ford Island, which is about a 10 minute free shuttle ride from the visitor center.  

The USS Missouri was not involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  However, the USS Missouri, stationed in Tokyo Bay at the time, was the sight of the signing of the terms of surrender of Japan to the Allied powers on September 2, 1945.  The Missouri had been active in the Pacific theatre in WWII, and then went on to service in the Korean War before being decommissioned in 1955.  The ship found a new purpose in the 80's and 90's, participating in military operations in the Middle East, before being permanently decommissioned in 1992. 

After some debate, it was decided that it would be fitting for the places that the American participation in WWII began and ended to be in visible proximity to one another and Missouri was returned to Pearl Harbor where she was opened as a                                                                                    museum in 1999 and remains to this day.

The entrance fee includes an approximately 30 minute tour around the main deck of the ship, which includes the exact spot the terms of surrender were signed.  The tour is informative and worthwhile. 

A large portion of the ship is open for self touring, and we also found this to be quite interesting.  Certain parts of the ship are converted to museum like displays, others have been left as they were when the ship was operational, such as the bunks, the showers, the mess hall, the bakery (complete with the smell of doughnuts), and the officers quarters. 

Interesting that the US Military and I have the same rules

Pretty tight for a tall guy!

One very interesting area is dedicated to Kamikaze pilots, Japanese pilots, as most of you know, that gave their lives for Japan simply by crashing into things with their planes.  These young men, some as young as the age of 17, made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and their last letters to their loved ones, some of them unborn children, displayed in the museum hall, reveal a surprising spirit of confidence and joy in their own suicides. I found it difficult to imagine being on the receiving end of one of these letters, and could only force myself to read a few.

Incidentally, a kamikaze attempted to take out the USS Missouri in April of 1945.  The poor kid barely nicked the hull but his plane flipped onto the deck and exploded, killing none but the poor pilot himself.  The sailors, it being a better time with better people, used items around the ship to construct a makeshift Japanese flag and buried the youngster with military honors. A truly human story.

I will add this here as a comment.  In general at both the Missouri and the Visitor Center site I was impressed by the neutrality of the presentation.  The presentation is factual and fair.  Though Japan was our enemy in war at the time, the presentation reminds us that the Japanese who fought were human souls who had families and loved ones.  Though we were at war then, we are not at war now, and all are welcome to mourn the loss of human life, both American and Japanese, that happened in the Pacific during WWII


Anyway, I will repeat.  Every American needs to see and understand this place and what happened here. In my opinion, it is probably best for children/teens to have had at least at least some US History, so I think the age of appreciation may be about 16 (mine were 19 and 23).  Schools now are frightfully deficient in their presentation of the facts of history, and truly there is just too much to teach, so it is important for parents to bring their teens to fill in the gaps and help our future to appreciate the sacrifices that were made so that they can enjoy freedom.  

Memorials are sad but necessary.  Knowing that you stand over the grave of over 1000 American boys who were probably eating pancakes as they took their last breaths is a sobering reminder of your own mortality.

Pearl Harbor is almost more of a pilgrimage than an activity.

Thank you for reading this post!!  I hope to write another post about some great hikes on Oahu this week!  And now for some more pictures!

The guns of the USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri
are only a short distance from each other


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