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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting to Know Hawaii: The USS Arizona Memorial

The Need to Knows:
  • The USS Arizona Memorial is located at 1 Arizona Memorial Road, Honolulu, HI 96818.  The Google Maps link is here:

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  • It is open from 7AM to 5PM daily and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
  • Bags are not allowed within Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.  However, storage lockers are available for use for a fee -- I think it's around $3.00 a locker, but I didn't use them, so I'm not 100% sure on that. The storage facility is open from 6:30AM to 5:30PM daily.
  • The tour itself lasts approximately an hour and fifteen minutes.  It includes a brief introduction, a 23-minute documentary on the events leading up to and on the day of December 7, 1941, a shuttle boat ride to the Memorial, and time to experience the Memorial itself.  I would allow for more time to explore the grounds and the various museums as well.
  • I strongly recommend reserving tickets in advance for the Memorial.  When I went, I'd reserved tickets for the 9AM tour on a Friday, and I was able to pick them up at 7:30AM (you must pick up your tickets one hour in advance at the latest or they will be redistributed back into circulation for the general walk-in public) and have time to explore the museums and walk the grounds before the 22-minute movie and boat ride began.  A friend of mine mentioned that when she went, she and her husband waited in line for about an hour and a half for tickets -- yikes!   The only way to reserve tickets is to visit Recreation.gov; the link to the USS Arizona Memorial tour page is here.  There is a reservation fee at $1.50 per ticket.  If you plan on seeing the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum, the tour page also offers a "Passport to Pearl Harbor" tour in which you can purchase your entrance fees to those sites in advance.
  • Each program has a capacity of 150 people, and programs run every 15 minutes -- the first begins at 8AM, and the last begins at 3PM.  If you don't reserve tickets, be prepared to get there early and wait in line! 
  • Please, please be quiet, respectful, and courteous while at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center as well as when you are on the USS Arizona Memorial itself.  The Memorial is considered a burial ground, just like the National Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) or Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, so behave accordingly.
  • For more information, please visit the USS Arizona Memorial website via the National Park Service.

From the moment Mr. L and I found out that we would be moving to Hawaii, we both knew that visiting the USS Arizona Memorial would be at the top of our "must see" list, not only because of our current and family members' past military involvement, but also because we are big history fans, especially of the World War II era.

Unfortunately due to complications at work, Mr. L was unable to join us this time to see the Memorial.  (Don't worry, we'll be back many times, I'm sure!)  So I took a friend and our two houseguests that were in for the week and we set off bright and early to go pick up our reserved tickets at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

Since we arrived fairly early, a little before 7:30AM, we were able to find parking very easily, and even at that time the ticket lines were relatively short.  Luckily we were able to get our tickets immediately from the reserved counter and we proceeded to wander the grounds of the visitor center.

View of Ford Island from the Visitor Center -- you can see the Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri behind it.
Neat sign that shows you just how far away from everything we are in Hawaii.
We took some time to view one of the open-air museums, which detailed not only what happened on December 7th, 1941 and the aftermath, but also the events leading up to that day and how the attack was put into motion.  It was incredibly informative, but at times also heartbreaking, especially when you see pictures of the dead and dying after the Japanese began the attack.  That portion of the exhibit definitely brought me to tears.

After passing through the museum, we headed outside to see some of the various memorials along the grounds and make our way towards the theater for the documentary film.

Bridge to Ford Island in the background
We found this really neat map of Oahu that I enjoyed checking out:

You can see Koko Head and Hanauma Bay as well as the eastern side of the island in the foreground, and the west side of the island (the Waianae Mountains) in the background.
Where we were!
From this area you could also see the USS Bowfin submarine off to our right:

We opted to not tour the submarine that day, but I will most certainly be back to check it out in the future!  If you're interested in touring it, tickets can be purchased at the entrance of the Visitor Center, the same area where you would purchase tickets for the Arizona, the USS Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

When it was time for our documentary showing to begin, we entered the theater and watched a very enlightening yet emotional film on the attacks that I feel complemented the museum exhibit nicely.  After it was over, we boarded the Navy boat and made our way out to the Memorial itself.

View to one side of some of the ships at Pearl Harbor that Mr. L and I drive by nearly every day.  It definitely made things hit home for me to realize how close all of this was together!
We stepped onto the Memorial and were immediately greeted by the beautiful architectural details over our heads...

...a memorial plaque on the wall...

...and then the view to our immediate right of one of Arizona's hulls.

It's a little difficult to describe exactly what I was feeling, but I was definitely emotional.  It was a little haunting, and you could read the sorrow on some of the other people's faces around me.  At one point I saw a man so affected he was openly weeping, and it was quite moving.  While I was pondering the somber scene, I looked up and saw this flag waving in the wind with beautiful blue skies behind it (from the other pictures you can tell it was an overcast morning), and I felt a little more at peace.

We continued to walk down the right side of the memorial, looking out at the views and this plaque dedicating the memorial:

At the center of the memorial you can look down and see the Arizona (as well as various kinds of fish) sitting below us:

On the far side of the memorial is the wall engraved with all of the men's names who were entombed within the battleship.

And this was a separate marble plaque listing the men who escaped the Arizona's sinking only to be returned here upon their deaths to be with their fellow shipmates:

We spent a few minutes silently honoring and remembering these men, and proceeded to the other side of the memorial where we could see where other ships had been docked, as well as the USS Missouri, the battleship on which WWII ended.

Here you can see the oil that is still currently leaking from the wreckage of the Arizona, even to this day.
If you look towards the USS Missouri, you can see a small white buoy indicating one end of the USS Arizona.  You can see the other buoy showing the other end in the first picture of the hull, and it really lets you understand just how massive this ship was.
The USS Missouri, representing the end of WWII right next to what was the beginning of WWII for the United States.
All in all, I highly recommend visiting this attraction if you ever find yourself on this beautiful island.  It's so important to remember our history, and this memorial is a real and tangible way for us to not only connect with our past, but it is also a way to put faces and names on the sacrifices made so long ago for our nation.

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