Memorial Day 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the USS Arizona Memorial.
When planning our trip to Oahu, several friends had insisted, “You have to visit Pearl Harbor.” Now that I’ve done so, I would urge the same to anyone visiting the island.
A visit to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial is a sobering experience, a poignant reminder of the 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives here on December 7, 1941. On this sunny Spring day on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the scene at the New Visitor Center is quiet and peaceful, a fitting tribute to our nation’s fallen soldiers. A self-guided audio tour narrated by actor Jamie Lee Curtis is an informative, inspiring companion as I stroll the grounds, contemplating the weight of history from that Sunday morning long ago.
The audio tour begins with a stop at The Tree of Life, a sculpture designed by architect Alfred Preis to symbolize rebirth, renewal and a reminder that we are all interconnected. Nearby the USS Arizona Bell, one of two salvaged from the ship, stands silent.
I stop at the Road to War Museum to learn about the events that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor and observe a detailed model of the USS Arizona on display. But inside the Attack Museum, recordings by survivors who share their memories of the assault leave the deepest impression.
A US Navy boat shuttles us to the USS Arizona Memorial, a site visited by more than 1.5 million people annually. The long white, airy structure echoes the beauty of the Tree of Life sculpture at the Visitor Center. The building was designed to stand strong on either end with a sag in the center, symbolizing initial defeat but ultimate victory.
As we walk through the entrance, the mood is somber, heightened by the realization that we are standing over the submerged hull of the ship, the final resting place for many of the crewman.
A guide refers to the “Black tears of the USS Arizona” in pointing to the oil slick that continues to stream onto the water surface from the sunken battleship.
At the far end of the memorial lies the shrine room where the names of those who lost their lives aboard the ship are engraved on a white marble wall.
Learning that several surviving crewmen of the attack requested that their ashes be entombed here alongside their fallen brethren adds to the poignancy of the scene.
What You Need to Know If You Go:
- The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is open from 7AM – 5PM daily, but the timed visits to the USS Arizona Memorial start at 8AM and end with the 3PM visit.
- While there’s no ticket cost to visit the USS Arizona Memorial itself, other nearby Pearl Harbor historic sites do charge a fee. For details, see http://www.nps.gov/valr/planyourvisit/feesandreservations.htm.
- In the past, long line waits of two hours or more was not uncommon. But the situation has improved with the ability to reserve tickets on-line (for a service fee of $1.50). Tickets must be picked up one hour before the reserved program time.
- Pay the $7.50 for the audio tour if you want to fully enjoy the experience of your visit.
- Strict security measures prevent bags of any kind – including diaper bags, purses, camera bags – anything that conceals the contents – past the entrance. Cell phones, cameras and wallets are allowed. Prepare to store your bags at the storage facility for $3.00 a bag.
Do you have any memories to share of Pearl Harbor and/or the USS Arizona, Wanderboomers?