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Friday, December 07, 2012


Pearl Harbor, HawaiiThere are few places that command the solemnity felt by all who visit the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii.  Officially it is part of The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  People whisper and stare, knowing but not quite believing that beneath them lies the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona.  Not only was the Arizona a casualty of Japan's attack but also it is the  tomb for 1177 sailors aboard on the morning of December 7, 1941. 

The Memorial is an awesome sight; its pure white building curved over the Arizona.  We are ferried across the harbor from the mainland, silent in expectation.  We see the Battleship Missouri in the distance and the graceful sweep of the Memorial’s lines grows as we approach. 
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

A ramp leads to the Memorial building. We are a hushed group as we walk through the building, most barely stopping to look out as we head, instead, to the beckoning far wall where the names of the lost sailors are etched.  Just before entering that room, we pass an opening in the floor and gaze down through the murky waters at the Battleship Arizona.  We are standing above her, safe and dry. 

Pearl Harbor, HawaiiPearl Harbor, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The United States flag proudly flies against the blue sky above the memorial, and we see it through arched openings as we pass beneath. Here’s an interesting fact: the USS Arizona was stricken from the official register of naval vessels after she was attacked and sunk, but she was re-commissioned when the flagpole was erected on the ship.
Pearl Harbor, HawaiiThe room that lists the names of the sailors lost is almost shocking.  The entire wall is covered with names, and it takes a moment for us to see each of those names representing one lost young sailor.  There were 37 sets of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona.  In front the memorial wall stands a flower wreath brought by visitors in memory of the fallen.  Leis also hang on some of the posts. The side walls of this room let in the sunlight. The patterns of the openings are Trees of Life, the dominant theme here and at the Museum on the mainland. 

Midway through the building is a chart showing our position above the Arizona and pointing out which parts of the ship are visible to us.  People pause, point, study, and look out to locate their discoveries.  There is virtually no discussion.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii 

A National Parks Service Ranger moves through the building and explains to the visitors what we are seeing.  At one viewing point, fish swim amid the broken wreck.  Looking out from another point, we can see the names of the ships that were moored alongside; the Arizona’s still stands.

Striking and forever memorable to me is the eerie way in which the Arizona constantly reminds us of her existence.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
The oil droplets that escape and rise

Each day of the past 71 years, a small amount of oil escapes the Arizona and rises to the surface.   On December 6, 1941, the Arizona took on a full load of fuel—nearly 1.5 million gallons.  Since Dec. 7, 1941, oil droplets bubble up from the ship’s interior and float above the wreck, fanning out over the water.  The estimate is approximately 9 quarts daily. I can see the oil drops spread and color the waters of the harbor before they float off into the sunlight.  But before the oil has moved very far from the ship, the sun’s warm rays hit it and vaporize it.  The oil disappears.  Constantly for 71 years. 

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
I wonder what he is thinking

While the Arizona’s veterans still live there are other reminders of the day’s tragedy.  Funerals occur aboard The Arizona. The bond between the shipmates was so strong and enduring that some survivors have requested to be interred with their shipmates.  These are funerals with full military honors.  Since returning I’ve met someone who witnessed one of these.  As part of the ceremony, a diver takes the urn and brings it to its final resting place among the man’s mates.

When we are ready, we line up to board the boat to take us back toPearl Harbor, Hawaii shore.  A new crop of visitors enter just as we did, solemnly and quietly.  Perhaps they scan our faces to gather hints of our reactions.  Some pause slightly to look at a plaque or out to see the moorings of the ships that went down.  Or they look out at the Battleship Missouri.

We return to shore and continue our audio tour of the Museum buildings, and I highly recommend you make the time to do so too. 

The tour out to the Arizona takes about 75 minutes beginning with a 23 minute film on shore.  Then we are ferried out to the Memorial, have sufficient time to view everything, and then are ferried back. 

We also took an audio tour narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis whose father, actor Tony Curtis, was a Pacific War veteran.  The audio tour takes us through the interpretive museums and the waterfront exhibits.  We have an opportunity to hear survivors’ narratives on what they experienced that day.  It probably will take at least an hour to go through the different exhibits. Plan to spend the time.  It’s worth it.

The museums are very interesting.  They present background, biographies of some of the key players, and try to enhance our understanding of why, how, and what exactly happened.  In our electronic age, it is interesting to see how communications were in 1941. 

On Dec. 7, 1941, approximately 40% of the Oahu population was of Japanese descent with 124,000 American citizens and 45,000 immigrants.  The museum also deals with the hardships these people suffered as a result of the War in the Pacific.  

As always, I have the highest praise and gratitude to our National Park System.  Please support them.  There is no charge for the Arizona Memorial. 

Travel Tips for the Arizona Memorial

We did not budget enough time to see everything.  We spent over three hours in this one area.  We did not get over to tour the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin submarine, or the Pacific Aviation Museum.  My suggestion is that, depending on your interest, you might need an entire day to really absorb everything offered.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
The Battleship Missouri, commissioned June 11, 1944

A relatively new option is to buy tickets online.  (If you google Pearl Harbor, you will get a number of sites selling tours.  Go to the gov't site.) If your Hawaii tour book is not brand new, you might not see an online option, and buying tickets at the Memorial might lead to a several hour wait or, because of crowds, an inability to get a ticket at all.  Tours have 150 people and there is a 15 minute lag between tours. We bought online where we picked our tour time.  Online instructions prohibit backpacks and other items, so read those instructions.  We did see people with small packs.  Tickets must be picked up an hour before the scheduled tour or they are sold to walk-ins.  Honolulu has traffic, so be diligent in planning your time. 

Visit early in the morning to avoid crowds and the heat.  Or go to the beach in the morning and come here when the clouds gather in the afternoon.  The last tour is at 3:00. 

Another important point is to bring water.  Hawaii is hot—all year long—so bring water with you—here and everywhere you go in Hawaii.

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