The most conspicuous casualty of the December 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, was the battleship USS Arizona, which blew up and sank at its Ford Island berth with the loss of 1,177 crew members. It was the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in American history.
The Arizona still lies where she sank, and within her hull are the remains of 1,102 of the Arizona crew who died on "The Date Which Will Live in Infamy.” Though no longer commissioned (contrary to popular belief), the Arizona is an active military cemetery and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. It is also the centerpiece of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which was established in 1962 and is co-managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy.
The USS Arizona Memorial, star attraction of the newly-designated World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, hosts 1.5 million visitors a year. Here are some things people should know about visiting this remarkable place:
** Security measures are comprehensive and stringently enforced. They prohibit purses, handbags, fanny packs, backpacks, camera bags, diaper bags, luggage and/or other items that offer concealment. Visitors may bring a camera and cam-recorder. A storage facility, operated by a private vendor, is available for visitors coming to the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri (reopening mid-January) and the Pacific Aviation Museum. The facility can be found at the entrance to the USS Bowfin Submarine Park. There is a nominal storage fee. The storage facility operates daily 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Visitors may use the same bag storage and parking stall for all three tours.
** Military dress regulations are strictly enforced for all military visitors.
Military visitors to the National Monument are within the boundary of Pearl Harbor Naval Station. Navy regulations relating to military dress are enforced by Navy personnel. NPS Rangers will remind military personnel that dress whites or better (or service equivalent) is the military dress attire required to gain access to the shuttle boats to the USS Arizona Memorial. Battle dress uniform is not allowed on the USS Arizona Memorial, though it is allowed throughout the visitor center and at sites on Ford Island.
** Get there early and you'll be more likely to get a decent parking place. Construction activity and tour buses limit available parking.
** Upon your arrival, be sure to get your tour tickets right away. Admission to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is free, but you’ll need a timed ticket to take the USS Arizona Memorial tour. The tour tickets, which are free of charge and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, can be picked up at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park adjacent to the visitor center. At the same booth, you can purchase tickets for the memorial’s partner sites (USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri (reopening mid-January), and the Pacific Aviation Museum).
** On a busy day you’ll have a significant wait before your ticket’s time slot is announced. In any event, you’ll want to see the many exhibits and other attractions at the visitor center. The prime place to start is the USS Arizona Memorial Museum. If your time slot is called before you finish, plan to go back and resume where you left off. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
** Do yourself a favor and ante up five bucks to rent a narrated audio tour headset in the visitor center front lobby. Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor and US Navy WWII veteran Ernest Borgnine, the one-hour audio program (available in seven languages) includes explanations, discussions, and stories about more than 20 destinations, including the exhibit hall, shoreline exhibits, Remembrance Circle, and USS Arizona artifacts. The narration continues on the shuttle boat ride and on the memorial itself.
** Browse the bookstore when you get the chance. It’s about as well-stocked as any park bookstore you’re likely to see.
** Don’t forget the Interpretive Exhibit Panels and the Remembrance Circle, a shoreline exhibit honoring all who lost their lives (including civilians)in the December 7, 1941, attack.
** When your ticket’s time slot is announced, report to the theater to begin your USS Arizona Memorial tour. There are four discrete components of the tour: a 23-minute documentary film about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a short trip to Ford Island’s historic “Battleship Row” on a US Navy-operated shuttle boat, a self-guided exploration of the memorial (which straddles, but does not touch, the sunken ship), and the return trip by Navy shuttle boat.
** While at the memorial, appreciate the symbolism and pause to reflect on the human cost. The bright white structure that straddles the sunken ship has seven large apertures representing the date of the attack (December 7) and 21 windows symbolizing a 21-gun salute for the fallen crew of the Arizona. Oil droplets that still seep to the surface from the ship are called “black tears.” The most solemn things you will see are the sunken hull of the ship, which is visible just below the surface, and the names of the 1,177 dead crew members inscribed on the walls of the memorial’s shrine. You can toss flowers into the water to honor the fallen, but don't throw leis, since the strings are deemed hazardous to sea life.
** When you have finished your memorial tour and your exploration of the visitor center attractions, visit the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. It’d be a shame to miss it.
** Take the trolley to Ford Island and visit the Pacific Aviation Museum. The museum admission fee isn’t cheap ($15 in 2009), but this is no ordinary museum. It has, among other things, a huge former seaplane hangar that survived the December 7, 1941 attack, a 25,000-square-foot exhibit area, six interactive flight simulators, an authentic Japanese Zero in a diorama setting on the deck of the Japanese carrier Hiryu at dawn on December 7th, a light civilian plane that was airborne (and shot) during the attack, a P-40 fighter of the type airborne from Wheeler and Haleiwa Field on the day of the attack, a B-25B similar to one used on the Doolittle Raid on Japan in April 1942, an SBD Dauntless dive bomber, a Grumman Wildcat featured in a Guadalcanal diorama, and the Stearman N2S-3 trainer in which former President George H. Bush soloed.
** While on Ford Island you'd normally want to tour the Battleship Missouri, but that's not an option right now. The "Mighty Mo" has been in drydock since October 14 and will not be available for tours again until mid-January. The site now only sports a small visitor center with some exhibits. The Missouri is certainly worth a tour when you get the chance. World War II ended on September 2, 1945, when Japanese officials signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender during a ceremony that took place on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The Missouri was paired with the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor to evocatively symbolize the beginning and end of America’s participation in World War II. To show proper respect for the sunken Arizona and its lost crew, a carefully deliberated decision resulted in the Missouri being positioned well back from the Arizona and with its bow facing the sunken ship.
Postscript: Although the USS Arizona was symbolically “re-commissioned” on March 7, 1950, when it was equipped with a flagpole recovered from the sunken vessel, the Arizona is not a commissioned U.S. Navy vessel like the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) is. However, the flag that flies at the USS Arizona Memorial is treated as though it were flying on a commissioned vessel. This means that the memorial's flag is flown at half-mast when commissioned ships fly theirs at half-mast, which will be the case today. President Obama has proclaimed December 7, 2009 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and flags have been ordered to half-staff throughout the day in honor of those who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.
PACIFIC HISTORIC PARKS
Pacific Historic Parks is a Congressionally-authorized non-profit tasked to support the interpretation, research and related visitor service activities of the National Park Service at World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and three other sites across the Pacific region (Kalaupapa National Historic Park, War in the Pacific National Historical Park, and American Memorial Park [Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan]). Pacific Historic Parks makes interpretive and educational materials available to park visitors for sale through their bookstores, mail order, and membership programs. The income from these sales is used to support the research, interpretation, and conservation programs of the National Park Service.