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Places on Oahu: The USS Arizona Memorial

Basic Information

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Narrative

With all of its beaches, mountains, and sunshine it may seem a bit odd that a sunken ship would be the most visited tourist attraction in Hawaii, but as every American should know, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor isn’t just any sunken ship, but a tomb that honors the war dead of from one of our nation’s greatest struggles, World War II:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The sunken battleship serves as the final resting place for 1,102 US servicemen that died when their ship was struck by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941 during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  It was the greatest loss of life on a US Naval vessel in American military history.

The USS Arizona burns in Pearl Harbor after a Japanese bombing run.

The attack on Pearl Harbor claimed the lives of 1,247 military personnel and 35 civilians with the vast majority of the casualties coming from the USS Arizona.   The bombing of Pearl Harbor became known as “The Day that Would Live in Infamy” as the United States entered World War II by declaring war on Japan and her allies.

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor today is still a bustling Naval port, but the area across the harbor from the sunken Arizona has become a well maintained park managed by the National Park service:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

The National Park Service has constructed many new buildings and facilities at the site worthy of its status as the top tourist attraction on the island:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

This area was officially declared a historic landmark in 1964 ensuring the protection of the area for future generations to appreciate:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Tickets to see the USS Arizona Memorial are free, but only 1,300 are available per day.  Tickets can be ordered on line or on a first come first served basis at the park:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

The park also has a number of other paid tours that can be taken from the USS Arizona Memorial site such as over to Ford Island to see the USS Missouri Memorial.  Speaking of the USS Missouri it can be seen across from the USS Arizona Memorial at anchor at Ford Island:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Ford Island sits in the very center of Pearl Harbor and features some Naval facilities and a large military housing area:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

During World War II Ford Island could only be accessed by a ferry boat where today there is a large bridge that can be driven across to get to the island:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Here is a wider angle picture of the view:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

When visiting the USS Arizona Memorial make sure to arrive early because tickets to ride the boat out to the actual memorial are free, but given out on a first come, first serve basis.  I showed up at about 0830 in the morning and the Visitor Center was already packed.  I was able to get a ticket, but it took about 2 hours before the number to my boat was called and the group I was with could depart.  While waiting for my boat I took a walk around the park that surrounds the Visitor Center.  The trail along the shore line has a number of really good informative panels that explain the history of Pearl Harbor:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

At the park I was also able to get a good sense of scale of the number of people who died at Pearl Harbor that day because they had all their names listed on memorial panels overlooking Pearl Harbor:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Near the panels was also this nice topographic map that showed some of the key locations from the Pearl Harbor attack:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Near the park, visitors can also go to the USS Bowfin which is a retired US diesel submarine now on display to the public:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

I didn’t have time to visit the submarine because I did not want to miss my group number being called to board the boat to the memorial while on the submarine.  So I wasted some more time in the busy Visitor Center instead, which had some good displays about the lead up to and the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

My favorite displays were the ones that showed models of the ships such as this one depicting the USS Arizona:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

This next model depicts the Japanese Akagi aircraft carrier that participated in the Pearl Harbor bombing:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Here is another model showing the sunken USS Arizona Memorial:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

This next picture is of an impressive piece of artwork at the entrance of the museum showing a Japanese aircraft dropping a torpedo into Pearl Harbor:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

This next picture shows a Japanese torpedo that was recovered at the bottom of Pearl Harbor decades later during a dredging operation:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

It was originally believe torpedoes could not work in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, but the Japanese developed torpedoes that could operate in the harbor’s shallow waters.

Eventually my group number was called and we all boarded a small boat manned by US Navy personnel who did a good job answering the many questions the passengers that boarded the boat had.  I was lucky the day I visited the USS Arizona because the weather was just absolutely beautiful as we crossed Pearl Harbor:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

As the boat sped across the harbor I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the USS Missouri, which was where the Imperial Japanese signed the Instruments of Surrender that officially ended World War II:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The battleship was decommissioned in 1995 and was converted into a museum in 1998.  Behind me I could see Aloha Stadium, home of the NFL Pro Bowl overshadowed by the rugged peaks of Oahu’s Ko’olau Range:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

It took only about five minutes before our boat reached the USS Arizona Memorial:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The memorial was absolutely packed with people when I went there with many of them being surprisingly Japanese:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

My group deboarded the boat and entered into the memorial in a single file line while the group already on the memorial exited the memorial and onto the boat in a separate single file line:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Once on the memorial I was able to walk around and take as many pictures as I wanted of the submerged battleship as long as I could get around the crowds:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

The portion of the battleship that sticks up the highest out of the water is the remains of the ship’s massive gun turret:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Most of the rest of the strip remains below the water, but can still be seen through the clear water of Pearl Harbor:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma located on the other side of Ford Island were the only two ships that could not be salvaged after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  In a testament to the American industrial capacity at the time, every other ship damaged or sunk during the attack was repaired and put back into service before the end of World War II.

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Visitors to the memorial are allowed to bring flowers, which is what one family did to commemorate a family member entombed inside the USS Arizona:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Survivors of the USS Arizona that pass away that want their ashes entombed with the shipmates are the only reason that the USS Arizona is opened today.  The guide on the boat on the way in said that only twenty something survivors of the USS Arizona are alive today.

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

I was also able to see the tears of the USS Arizona as drips of oil from the ship continues to surface even though over 65 years has passed since the tragedy:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The National Park Service regularly checks the structural integrity of the submerged battleship to ensure the fuel tanks don’t crack and cause a massive oil spill in the harbor:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Inside the memorial is a wall with the names of all the servicemembers killed on the ship.  It is really incredible to see how much space 1,102 names can take up:

Picture from the USS Arizona Memorial

Rightfully so, seeing such a thing definitely made the atmosphere while visiting the memorial very solemn.  I could hear absolutely no one speaking loudly and hardly even anyone whispering do to the respect people obviously held for the memorial.

In total my group probably spent about 20 minutes on the USS Arizona Memorial before the boat returned and it was our turn to exit and head back to the Visitor Center:

Picture from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Conclusion

Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is definitely a memorable experience that I will always remember.  This location is something that every American visiting Hawaii should go and see.  It was additionally great to see so many Japanese tourists visiting the site as well.  I only hope visiting the site gives them a deeper understanding of World War II then what is offered in Japan where I have been to museums that downplay Japanese militarism during World War II.  The National Park Service with its museum and site visits really does a great job of allowing visitors to learn about this important moment in American history while still enjoying their time in paradise.

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