I’ve planned a vacation to Hawaii for later in the year, and as part of my planning, I’m making a list of things I’ve done and seen, and a list of things that I’ve yet to get to. On my last trip to Honolulu, I visited the USS Arizona Memorial.
Located at Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona Memorial honors the site where World War II began for the United States. The memorial was dedicated in 1962, and is the water gravesite for 1,102 crew members who were killed in the December 7th, 1941 bombing.
The memorial was designed to span the hull of the battleship, without ever touching it. The structure is 184 feet long, with two peaks at each end, with a sag in the middle of the structure. The sag is deliberate, and Alfred Preis, the memorial designer, sums it up like this:
“Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory… The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses… his innermost feelings.”
The ship’s HUGE anchor is displayed at the entrance to the visitor center, and it is here that you begin your journey through the exhibits and memorial. At the visitor center are a variety of historical exhibits and artifacts, and a documentary film about the Pearl Harbor attack is shown. As I looked around the theater area, I saw visitors representative of countries around the world, including many elderly Japanese tourists. I couldn’t help but wonder how they felt after viewing the documentary. What stories had they been told, or experiences that they lived through, about the attack. I wondered how their view of history compared and contrasted with mine.
Following the film, visitors are transported by boat to the memorial. At the entry to the memorial, you pass by two bells that were on the USS Arizona, and the enter the central assembly room. This area features seven open windows on walls and ceiling to commemorate the date of the attack. An opening in the floor overlooks the sunken decks of the Arizona, and it is from this location that visitors can pay their respects by tossing flowers and leis into the water. The oil that still seeps from the wreckage is sometimes referred to as “black tears” or “the tears of the Arizona.”
At the far end of the memorial is a marble wall shrine, behind velvet ropes, that lists the names of all those killed on the Arizona. It stands as a reminder to the very human cost of the attack, and that the beauty of the memorial is overshadowed by the solemnity and respect due to those buried in the water below.
The USS Arizona Memorial is open daily, from 7:30 am - 5 pm. Tickets are free, and issued on a first come, first served basis. During peak tourist times it can get quite crowded, as it is a stop on many organized tours. My recommendation is to visit during off-peak travel periods, or first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrive. Allow about an hour and a half to see everything.
Post 9/11 security regulations are in effect, and no purses, backpacks, camera bags, diaper bags, etc., are allowed in the visitor center or on the Memorial tour. Personal cameras are allowed. There is no baggage storage available, so leave them at home, in your hotel room, or in your car trunk.
The memorial is about a 45-minute drive outside of Waikiki, and is also accessible by Honolulu bus system. The #20 and #42 bus will take you to the Visitor Center.