Certain days in history remain forever infamous and December 7, 1941, is among them. This year marks the 67th anniversary of that fateful day when Japanese warplanes launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When the shattering assault was over 2,388 American seamen were dead and several ships were sunk. In total, 21 vessels lay capsized or severely damaged and the following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.

Today, the harbor on the south coast of the island of Oahu is a Second World War memorial site that is Hawaii’s most visited attraction receiving more than 1.5 million people annually. During guided and narrated tours visitors are reminded that by 10 a.m. on the day of the historic Japanese offensive, Pearl Harbor had been turned into a smoking battleground of flames, sunken ships, twisted metal and fallen seamen.

Tour guides describe in detail the air and sea attack that began at 7:55 a.m. The first ship to fall was the USS Arizona which exploded following a bomb hit that slammed through her deck and ignited ammunition stores. In less than nine minutes the vessel sank along with her crew of 1,177 men. After several torpedo hits, the USS Oklahoma capsized trapping 400 seamen inside and this was followed by the sinking of the California, the West Virginia and the Utah.

Operating under the umbrella of the U.S. National Parks Service, today the site incorporates the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the battleship USS Missouri Memorial. Located minutes west of Honolulu, the cornerstone of the site is the USS Arizona Memorial, a tribute to the servicemen who died on the ship. Reachable by shuttle boat, the rusted framework of the battleship lies submerged – though clearly visible – where the bodies of those onboard remain entombed. Constructed above the mid-section of the ship is a huge, white observation platform and a shrine room bearing the names of the lost seamen.

Tours to the 184-foot-long memorial structure are preceded by an onshore interpretive program at the visitor centre where a riveting 20-minute documentary film on the Pearl Harbor attack sets the scene. The centre also contains a museum housing an extensive collection of historic photos, artefacts retrieved from the harbour assault, plus other war-related exhibits.

The second feature of the three-pronged memorial is the USS Bowfin Submarine and Museum. The Bowfin arrived at her permanent home in Pearl Harbor in 1979. This intrepid underwater combat vessel was launched on December 7, 1942, and was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.” During its service, the submarine sank 44 enemy ships during nine tours of duty. The Bowfin provides a rare opportunity for the public to board a vintage sub from the Second World War and explore the adjacent Submarine Museum where a comprehensive collection of artefacts traces the history of submersibles from the first daring attempt to use one in warfare in 1776 up to present-day nuclear subs.

The latest addition to the site is the USS Missouri which received its official memorial dedication at Pearl Harbor in 1999. Moored in the harbour alongside Ford Island, a water-shuttle ride to the battleship features a historical commentary that details the vessel’s role in conflict. It was on the decks of the now-retired Missouri that the Japanese signed the 1945 surrender agreement ending the Second World War.

Today, visitors can climb aboard the 887-foot battleship from bow to stern, or mount the flying bridge which offers a panoramic view of Pearl Harbor. Other areas of interest aboard the Missouri are the ship’s Tomahawk Missile Launching System and her trademark nine big guns.

Visitors have access to various parts of the ship and an onboard mini-theatre provides a reflective look at the Missouri’s half century of service spanning three separate wars.

Touring the memorial site represents the very antithesis of the vacation Eden for which Hawaii enjoys a long-standing reputation. Less than 45 minutes down the road from the harbour, famous Waikiki Beach is perpetually strewn with a sea of oiled bodies soaking up the sun, and offshore, the South pacific teems with suntanned surfers catching the waves. Similarly, just minutes from Pearl Harbor, the city of Honolulu bustles with tourists wearing new, brightly coloured Hawaiian shirts and dresses. Beyond the city, popular attractions include the island’s Dole Pineapple Plantation and the Iolani Royal Palace, once home to Hawaii’s kings and queens.

This enchanting land of luau feasts and hula dancing is a stark contrast to the sobering solemnity of the Pearl Harbor site, yet few vacationers pass up the chance to tour one of the world’s most famous battle grounds. It has rightly been said that most people gather their knowledge of the Pearl Harbor assault from books and movies whereas a visit to the memorial site puts the human tragedy of it in real life perspective.


Pearl Harbor Memorial Site: Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed dates are American Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Admission is free and tours are on a first-come first-served basis. Many Honolulu hotels offer trolley rides to the memorial park.

Climate: The Hawaiian Islands have annual average temps of 74 to 88 degrees F. Even during the hottest months, trade winds have a cooling effect.
More Information: See www.gohawaii.com/islands/oahu and www.nps.gov/usar

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