This Memorial Day marks the 50th anniversary of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl harbor, now part of WW II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
Some people may have been convinced by the much-touted 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack that occurred in 1991 that the Memorial was 50, too. The Memorial that straddles the sunken battleship in Pearl Harbor debuted 21 years later—Memorial Day 1962.
The story of the delay is surprising, from Admiral Arthur Radford's decision to erect a flag over the wreck in 1950, to President Eisenhower's 1958 approval of a memorial, after denial, during the Korean War. It's amazing that a monument wasn't built immediately. Imagine flying over in 1955—an unmarked tomb visible just below the surface.
The Arizona hulk is still visible in gin clear water. It still contains the remains of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed on the ship in the December 7, 1941 attack that started World War II. It's the greatest loss of life on any warship in US history.
More than 1.7 million visitors toured the Memorial last year, making it one of the Aloha State’s most popular destinations. A major new harborside visitor center facility is part of the appeal this year.
Special events include a golden anniversary "Sunset Boat Tour" on Sunday and Monday May 27-28, 2012. A donation of $50 or more to the USS Arizona Memorial Restoration Project nets a “rare opportunity to experience the Memorial after hours," including "a fully-narrated tour around Ford Island led by National Park Service Rangers." (Tel: 808-954-8721 or 808-271-7015)
This and other anniversary events intend to raise $1 million to restore the USS Arizona Memorial.
On May 28th, “every program ticket holder will get a tribute flower and a commemorative card” to “be able to participate in a floral tribute during their visit to the USS Arizona Memorial.”
A Major Commemorative Attraction
Few events in American history are more reknowned than the December 7th attack. Visitors to the site are rewarded with insights that bring the event’s apocalyptic impact to life. The National Park Service and three nonprofit groups maintain historic sites under the name Pearl Harbor Historic Partners. All of the attractions are accessible from the Arizona Memorial visitor center complex (including tickets).
No visit to Hawai'i’s island of O'ahu or Honolulu is complete without visiting Pearl Harbor’s memorial attractions. The sites are just a short cab ride or easy drive from Honolulu and can offer up to a few days of historically rewarding exploring that nicely complements the beaches of Waikiki.
The National Park Service’s World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument has sites in California, Hawaii, Alaska and elsewhere in the Pacific. The Memorial’s new Visitor Center and harborside complex includes an expanded campus with the ship’s bell, a memorial bearing the names of the dead, and spectacular interpretive exhibits. Tickets for boat rides to the Arizona Memorial are available in advance from recreation.gov (as are tickets for all the other nonprofit attractions under the "Passport to Pearl Harbor").
The 184-foot-long Memorial structure features an entry room and a central assembly area often used for ceremonies. The Memorial's shrine room bears a marble wall engraved with the names of those killed on the Arizona. The US flag that flies from the Memorial is attached to the sunken ship’s severed mainmast.
“Mighty Mo,” the ship where the Japanese surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay, was relocated to Pearl Harbor in 1998 and docked on Ford Island. It’s a not-to-be-missed experience. The massive museum ship and WW II memorial is run by the nonprofit USS Missouri Memorial Association. This ship fired the first cruise missiles in Operation Desert Storm.
The USS Bowfin was launched a year to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and is credited with sinking 44 enemy ships. The nonprofit museum showcases the WW II submarine and exhibits about sub warfare, technology, and WWII in the Pacific Submarine Museum.
One of the nation's top aviation attractions, this Ford Island facility ooccupies hangars that survived the December 7th attack. This is a Pacific version of a Smithsonian Air & Space Museum dedicated to a wide variety of vintage aircraft.
Diamond Head—Le'ahi in Hawai'ian—is another great attraction with WW II history on the opposite side of Honolulu near Waikiki. The crater is one of the world’s most recognized landmarks.
At Diamond Head State Monument, the spectacular summit trail was built in 1908 as part of O'ahu's coastal defense system. The steep, strenuous, trail to the summit rises more than 500 feet in 0.8 mile.
Hawai'i State Parks says the walk “is a glimpse into geological and military history." Near the top, steep stairs lead “through a lighted 225-foot tunnel to enter the Fire Control Station completed in 1911. Built on the summit, the station directed artillery fire from batteries in Waikiki...”
Defensive bunkers are part of the summit experience and so is a tremendous view. You’re looking directly over Waikiki, out at distant Pearl Harbor, and down at a lighthouse built in 1917. “The postcard view of the shoreline is stunning, and during winter, may include passing humpback whales,” says Hawaii State Parks.
Right in the middle of Waikiki’s beachfront hotels, the U.S. Army Museum Hawai'i is a best-kept-secret spot. Guests in nearby hotels often pass without knowing it’s there.
Like the defenses on Diamond Head, the “museum” was actually built as a fort—Battery Randolph of Fort DeRussy—around 1914. In fact, this is the battery that the observers on Diamond Head would have controlled. This was once slated for demolition but its 12-foot-thick walls defied the wrecking ball and it became a museum in 1976. Audio tours are newly available.
The museum’s 15-minute film features the Army in Hawaii and the Pacific area, but it also delves into the military history of Hawai'i. Here’s the place to learn about the unification of the Islands under King Kamehameha, which includes the invasion of Waikiki, an event that drove O'ahu’s defenders up the Nu'uanu Valley above Honolulu to the sheer faces of the Pali where some were driven over the edge. The film is narrated by Hawai'i’s Medal of Honor-winning senior senator, Daniel K. Inouye.
After seeing the museum, visit the spot where O'ahu’s forces were driven over the cliff by Kamehameha. Take the drive over the Ko`olau mountains to the east side of the Island on HI 61, the Pali Highway, and stop at Nu'uanu Pali Lookout.
An Experience to Remember
Anniversaries or not, there's real power in the Pearl Harbor experience. I’ve been a few times, recently to see the USS Missouri, but the first time was in 1991 just before the 50th anniversary of the attack. Back then, I planned to go on to another island, so I boarded a commuter plane and zeroed in on one of the museum books I’d just gotten at the site.
As the plane arced up away from the airport, I glanced out the window at the jagged green ridge of Oahu and realized in an instant that it was the same mountain crest that Japanese aircraft swooped over in 1941. As I looked down on the map-like view below I traced the imaginary war planes to what I guessed would be Battleship Row.
At the spot where my eyes stopped, the Arizona Memorial glinted on the aquamarine water, its flag snapping in the breeze above the hulk of the ship, so visible under the water. Everyone on the plane was leaning for a look. Only when I noticed others reacting did I realize the whispers were in Japanese. I was surrounded by a Japanese tour group.
It was one of the most moving travel experiences I’ve ever had. Looking down on the watery berth of those sailors, I was suddenly struck by how much and how fast the world had changed, how small it had become. That kind of experience is what draws people to Pearl Harbor—especially Americans, and perhaps most pointedly on Memorial Day.
That also includes Japanese tourists. I still marvel at examining a USS Missouri tour brochure written in Japanese, and seeing a Japanese family posing for a snapshot on the very spot where the articles of surrender were signed ending WW II.
Editor’s Note: There's no better nod at Memorial Day than visiting the Web site aimed at restoring the Memorial. We also suggest the Web sites for the National Park Service’s WW II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and those of the Bowfin Museum, the USS Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. The depth of material imparts a stirring experience of WW II. They’re also perfect preparation for a trip to Hawai'i and Honolulu—or being persuaded that you need to go.