Pearl Harbor / USS Arizona Memorial
Just behind tourism, the US Military is the second largest component of Hawaii’s economy. There are seven active installations representing all five military branches in Hawaii... and all are on Oahu. The naval base is on Pearl Harbor, just west of Honolulu, the site of the 1941 Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II. The USS Arizona Memorial on Pearl Harbor commemorates the incident.
Hawaii’s location in the central North Pacific, nearly the same distance from North America and Asia, made Hawaii a strategic base for military operations. In 1887, the United States entered into an agreement with what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii, to lease Pearl Harbor as a naval base, which it has remained ever since.
In 1941, World War II was well underway in both Europe and the Pacific, but so far, the United States had not engaged in any direct military activity. On December 7, 1941, in order to thwart possible US intervention in achieving their goals in the Pacific, Japan launched an attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The first wave of the surprise air attack targeted the airfield. The second wave targeted the ships. In the end, the death toll surpassed 2,400. More than half of the dead were from the battleship USS Arizona. A bomb had penetrated its ammunition compartment, blowing the ship apart and sinking it instantly.
While clearly a Japanese tactical victory, Japan did not achieve all of its objectives. Of the 165 ships in the harbor, only nine US ships had been sunk and only 21 were severely damaged. Most of the sunken ships and damaged ships were ultimately repaired and returned to service, many in time to help defeat Japan. The three ships that were not repaired... the target ship USS Utah, the battleship USS Oklahoma and the USS Arizona.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto prophetically stated, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant." The attack on Pearl Harbor had indeed galvanized the previously-divided American people to an unprecedented level of unity, purpose and determination.
Constructed in 1961 and dedicated in 1962, The USS Arizona Memorial honors those who died in the attack. Operated by the National Park Service, the memorial is roughly rectangular in dimension, but it has a peak on each end and a sunken area in the center. The long white structure is 184 feet in length, and has three sections... the vestibule in the front, the large open-air assembly room in the center and the shrine in the rear.
The memorial is constructed on top of the water, perpendicular and directly above the USS Arizona’s sunken hull. Some of the wreckage can still be seen from an opening in the assembly room floor and from the windows. To this day, seeping oil still floats to the surface.
Admission to the memorial is free, but it is always crowded. Numbered tickets are handed out first-come, first-served... and a full day’s tickets are frequently gone by mid-morning. There is plenty to do while waiting for your tour. The visitor center includes one of the USS Arizona’s two 9 ½ ton anchors, the ship’s bell, a museum and a great bookstore.
The tour begins with an informative 23-minute movie. Following the movie, visitors are ushered directly onto a ferry for a 5-minute ride to the memorial, where they may stay for precisely 13 minutes.
The USS Arizona Memorial is not only a memorial, but also a tomb... and proper respect is observed. 1177 of the USS Arizona’s crew of 1511 perished in the attack, most of them instantly, and most of those will be forever entombed within. Surviving crewmembers only, have the right to have their cremated remains interred within one of the USS Arizona’s turrets, and several have exercised that right.
The memory of Pearl Harbor is starkly juxtaposed with Hawaii’s stunning beauty and carefree attitude... but any trip to Oahu will be greatly enhanced with a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. (2008)