While I was in Waikiki I annoyingly ran into the same problem that so many residents seem to run into; the “I have time, I’ll just go later” syndrome. Since I was going to be in Honolulu for an entire week, I spent the first few days relaxing on the beach and wandering around town figuring that I’d go to see the sights later on, before I left.
Thankfully I did finally get myself to Pearl Harbor, though it took nearly two hours on the bus to get there. The total distance traveled on the bus, you ask? Ten miles. Seriously. I could have nearly walked there in the time the bus took – I think the combination of traffic, stopping every fifty feet, and never stopping for less than 2minutes were really the nail in the coffin of getting there in any reasonable amount of time.
But thankfully I had expected that the bus would take between a long time and forever, and so I had brought myself some music, a few things to read, and even a snack of the ride. Soon enough I was walking through the front gates (after checking my bags… welcome back to the US of Security), and resuming my wandering course. The Pearl Harbor Memorial has been, from what I can tell, expanded recently into the full “Valor in the Pacific” memorial, and hence has dozens of small memorials and interesting little displays… I spent nearly 20min just going through the types of torpedos that were used by US Subs in the pacific theater.
Unfortunately my wandering path through the site didn’t bring me to the “you need tickets to see the main memorials” section until it was so late that I could only see one of the “big three”: the memorial to the Arizona, the memorial to the Oklahoma, and the Battleship Missouri. Of the three, I decided that the Arizona was clearly the most iconic, and so I picked up a ticket and headed over to the tour-start-spot-place.
All of the major memorials in Pearl Harbor are guided tours, I learned, and the tour for the Arizona started off with a video giving the story behind the attack on Pearl Harbor, a bit of history on World War II, and the basics of what happened after the attack. It was actually quite interesting, and although it was obviously very pro-American I learned a bit of information that I hadn’t known before, and definitely found myself feeling a huge sense of respect for all the combatants.
After the video, we were all ushered (more like herded) onto a tour boat that took us over to the actual USS Arizona Memorial. Since the wreck of the Arizona still rests where it was lain so many years ago, there is no standing stone or other monument to the ship on land. Instead, the ship itself now serves as both a memorial to the ship and its crew, and a tomb for the same. Above the ship is berthed a white hall that us tourists could walk onto, to look out over what remains of what was the flagship of the US Pacific Fleet… and there’s actually a good amount to see. Two of the turrets can still be seen, as well as one of the observation masts; but more tellingly there is a near-permanent oil slick trailing off from the hulk. From what the Park Ranger told us, there was nearly 1.25million barrels of oil on the Arizona when it sank, and its only leaking out at a rate of 1-2 barrels a day – not enough to warrant desecrating the wreck in order to clean it up.
Getting to walk above the Arizona was interesting, and the marble slab showing the names of all of those entombed in its hull was very impressive, but to be honest the part of the memorial that moved me the most was a small piece of information that the Park Ranger told us before herding everyone back onto the tour boat. The day that the Arizona exploded (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Arizona_(BB-39)#Magazine_explosion for details on her death) not every crew member was aboard the ship… and those who were not have questioned why they didn’t die when all of their closest friends did.
See, from what the ranger explained, the sailors who served aboard a ship as large as the Arizona would generally only socialize with each other – thus when the ship went down those few who survived were left nearly alone in the world. However, recently the Navy commission started an “entombment” program for those survivors. When they die, their remains are cremated and actually placed inside the hull of the Arizona by Navy divers, in order to join their comrades. Their name is then etched into the memorial slab with those who died that day. It’s interesting, and rather moving that people would prefer that burial to being placed with their biological families.
But soon enough the tour was over, and I was heading back on the boat to shore. I was just in time to get about half an hour worth of exploring the memorials and museum exhibits before the whole area closed for the night (seriously… what national monument closes at 5:30 on a Saturday?). Most of the displays were about what the film had already gone over in more detail, but what really drew my attention were the museum pieces – some of the Anti-Air guns from the Oklahoma, M1 Garands from the Army bases, and even the remains of a Japanese torpedo that had been recovered only a few years before. From the story on the plaque, a dredging crew found the unexploded torpedo while clearing the shipping channel, and then handed it over to the Navy for safe disposal. After it was detonated the remains, and they were quite well intact, were mounted in the museum for viewing. Impressive, to say the least, that a 50+ year old torpedo was still operational.