We didn’t spend a lot of time on Oahu but there were a couple of things we wanted to do while we were there. One of those was making a visit to the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. Since Pearl Harbor is such a pivotal moment in US history, it just seemed impossible to go to Honolulu and not visit the site. Obviously I am not alone in thinking this since the place is very busy and they advise that it can be quite a long wait to get there.
As it turned out, the timing was pretty good. Entry to the memorial is free (there are other exhibits nearby that do have an entrance fee but we didn’t have time to fit them all in). When you arrive, you get a timed entry card that has the time at which the visit will start. Ours was only forty minutes away when we arrived. While we were waiting, there were a number of exhibits to look at that discussed aspects of the attack and also memorials to other aspects of naval operations.
A visit to a war memorial of any sort is usually a harsh reminder of just how much loss occurs. The separation of time and experience makes it easy to lose track of just how much a global conflict does to people. There was a memorial to all of the submarines lost by the United States during WWII. It was a lot of submarines. On each stone was a brief history of the submarine and a list of the crew that were lost with the sub. Reading through the list was a sobering experience. That was going to be the theme for the whole day.
When our time slot came, we headed over the theater on the site. This was the beginning of the visit and included an introductory film that lasted approximately half an hour. This was a very well produced film that provided context for the lead up to war in the Pacific. It included the run up to the attack,the preparations that were in place at Pearl Harbor and the details of the attack itself.
The descriptions of the day and the footage that accompanied it (including film of the Arizona exploding) were so vivid, I doubt anyone in the room was not moved. It was certainly very quiet when the lights went up and everyone started filing to the boat.
The group was sized to fit on one boat to cross to the memorial and to have enough people to be on the memorial without making it too crowded. When we arrived, the previous tour boarded our boat to return. Having seen the memorial on TV many times, it was quite strange to finally see it in person. I guess I often experience this with famous landmarks.
The memorial is a very interesting place. Only one gun turret mount is visible above the surface so this is the first thing most people focus on. Then, as you move around, you start to make out more of the detail just below the surface. there are sections of the deck that are just below the surface that you can make out. (Polarized sunglasses are a benefit on this trip.) There is also still oil floating to the surface from the wreck, even after all of these years. The ship burned for three days after the attack so the fact that there is still anything coming out is amazing.
There was a park ranger on the memorial available to answer questions. While he seemed to enjoy presenting things in a dramatic style, he was a great source of additional information. The introductory presentations suggest that the reason that the crew were left in the boat was because it was a memorial. When he discussed exactly what happened during the explosion, you realize that there really wasn’t anything left to try and find. It was a horrifying end.
This brings me to something I was rather perplexed about. I took a lot of pictures while there (as is apparent from those attached to this post). I wanted to have something to remember the whole thing by. Obviously, everyone was taking a lot of pictures. However, what I couldn’t understand was people taking pictures of themselves on the memorial. I don’t normally ask people to comment but in this case, if you do have any thoughts, I would be interested to hear them.
I am happy to take our picture in front of scenic landscapes and famous cityscapes. However, when visiting a memorial to the death of over 1,100 people, it seems to me that having me grinning in front of it is an inappropriate thing to do. It is like people have forgotten exactly where they are for a moment. The mood on the memorial was generally what you would expect but this just seemed odd to me. Maybe I am out of touch on this.
This was a very interesting visit to make. I am very glad to have been there and would certainly recommend you go if you are in the area. It won’t be something that you necessarily “enjoy” but you will probably find it a very moving and thought-provoking experience.