A day that will live in infamy…

3 Apr
USS Arizona by helicopter

USS Arizona Memorial – you can see the ship’s outline under the surface.


The only “must-see” item on our list when we were making our plans to visit Oahu was a trip to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial.

I’m no history buff (mainly because I struggle to remember the dates and details so it just seems easier to focus on the future), so although it made our list, it didn’t have any special significance to me – until I got there.

Let me start with the logistics in case you’re contemplating a trip to Pearl Harbor…

Tours of the USS Arizona Memorial are FREE but they only give out 2000 tickets each day (each for a specific time), so you’re advised to get there at 7am to claim tickets before they run out. We left our place in Hawaii Kai at 6:30am, assuming 30 minutes would be ample time to cover the 15 miles to Pearl Harbor.

Think again. Turns out Honolulu has quite the little rush hour. We pulled into the parking lot 75 minutes later and I was freaking out that we were going to be too late. Alas, we were fine. Even managed to score tickets to the 8:45 admission, so I think all the other tourists were stuck in the same traffic we were.

As we headed from the ticket booth, the National Anthem played, marking the opening of the Memorial at 8am. I have to say, when you’re looking out across the water where eight battleships were destroyed and where thousands of people lost their lives – pretty hard NOT to be moved when you hear our anthem.

The tour kicks off with a 30 minute movie that was well done and provided just the kind of WWII crash course I needed to appreciate the significance of the memorial. After viewing the video, we were herded onto a ferry that took us to the memorial, which is floating in the water above the remains of the Arizona.

I didn’t find the memorial itself that moving, but it does provide a good way to connect with the wreckage of the ship, since you can look straight down and see her underwater, knowing she still contains the bodies of over 1,000 people. THAT is moving.

When we were done at the USS Arizona, we toured the USS Bowfin, a submarine that boasts a pretty fortunate record from its missions, considering we lost 20% of our submarine fleet in WWII. I can’t fathom living on one of those vessels – just touring it was about as much as I could handle of the cramped quarters. (Admission was $12 and included an audio guide – definitely felt worth the money.)

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We wrapped up our visit to Pearl Harbor on the USS Missouri – a battleship that fought in WWII, the Korean War and the Gulf War. The “Mighty Mo” was the last battleship commissioned and the site of Japan’s surrender, which ended WWII. (Admission is $25 and includes both a guide-led tour and an audio tour.)

After a brief tour that covered some of the key highlights, we were left to explore on our own. It felt like we had full run of the ship – we were able to go downstairs and tour the living quarters (it’s good to be an officer!) and above deck we climbed to the wheelhouse, which impressed us with its bank vault-like door. It’s quite impressive that a ship like that functions as a self-contained city – making, baking or manufacturing pretty much anything it needs while at sea.

The Mighty Mo!

The Mighty Mo!

We ended up spending almost seven hours at Pearl Harbor and still didn’t get a chance to see or read everything that was available. For true history buffs, I think two days would be needed to really do it justice. For me, it did such a great job bringing history to life that I’m now curious to learn more about the Pacific portion of WWII, since almost all the history I’ve learned has focused exclusively on Germany.

Any books or films you’d recommend to help me satisfy this itch? 

7 Responses to “A day that will live in infamy…”

  1. mgrcwil46 April 5, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    You should definitely read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. While the book focuses on the true story of olympic calibre runner Louis Zamperini, the descriptions of his experiences as a WWII pilot and Japanese prisoner of war illuminate that whole historical period in gut wrenching style. I haven’t seen the film yet but I understand it doesn’t quite do justice to the book.

    • pithypants April 6, 2015 at 8:48 am #

      Good call! I’ve actually read that book (twice, actually, because it was so good!) and had forgotten that I have a wee bit of perspective on the Pacific part of WWII. If only there were more books so well written on the topic. That story is magical.

  2. Hoyt, Matthew April 5, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    I got to ask: 1000 bodies still down there. Why?

    Sent from my iPad

    • pithypants April 6, 2015 at 8:46 am #

      Great question. The bomb that hit it ignited major amounts of fuel, causing a fires that lasted more than two days (despite the fact that it was in the water). As a result, I think the bodies were cremated, so it is perhaps a bit overly dramatic to refer to the contents of the ship as corpses.

  3. thesinglecell April 24, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

    Love that memorial and was particularly moved by the symbolism of its physique: taller at the ends than in the middle to represent the country’s strength at the beginning and end of the war, but the struggle at its midpoint. I found it amazing that oil still leaked from a hatch in the ship, as of 1992, at least. As for books, try “At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor” by Gordon William Prange. A lot of the lead-up that explains how we got to where we wound up, plus the actual action.

    PS. Hi.

    • pithypants April 25, 2015 at 6:05 am #

      You’re alive! Yay! And educational – I hadn’t realized the bit about the symbolism of the memorial. You must’ve listened to the $7 audio tour that I was too cheap to purchase.

      PS – the oil is still seeping from the ship. How is this not an environmental clean-up site?

      PSS – Thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds great!

      • thesinglecell May 1, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

        They must have changed the recording they play on the ferry ride over to it. That’s where I remember learning it. This was 23 years ago. All memories are subject to scrambling.

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