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Pearl Harbor Memorial: Explore World War II History in Hawaii

Although the attack on the US fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor was unexpected, it actually grew out of historical events years earlier. It was the culmination of a years of deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States over the status of China and the security of Southeast Asia. The objective was to immobilize the Pacific Fleet so that the United States could not interfere with these invasion plans.

Today Pearl Harbor is part memorial, part lesson in history. It is a destination for most visitors to Oahu, and for good reason.

The Pearl Harbor site has grown over the years and is far more than the USS Arizona Memorial. You can easily spend a whole day there.

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USS Arizona Memorial

The Memorial is an 184-foot-long structure that spans the mid-portion of the sunken battleship. Visiting is free but it is advisable to make a reservation for the Arizona in advance - these timed visits fill up quickly.

As part of the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial program (immediately preceding the boat trip to the actual Memorial), visitors enter the theater to see a 23-minute documentary film on the December 7, 1941 attack. Do not miss this. It is a fascinating explanation of the history of this infamous attack.

Headsets are available for rent. The audio tour provides narration throughout the visitor center, exhibit galleries, and waterfront interpretive displays, in addition to providing interpretive information on the shuttle boats and on the Memorial. Also, bags, purses, backpacks etc. are not permitted on the ground of Pearl Harbor. Happily, cameras are allowed.

USS Bowfin Submarine and Park

Also on the grounds of Pearl Harbor is the USS Bowfin Submarine and Park. If you've never explored a sub, you'll definitely want to do this. The design and organization that enabled about 71 men to live and work in a 311 feet in length space is ingenuous and amazing. There is also a museum associated with the Bowfin. Extra charges apply.
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USS Missouri Battleship and Pacific Aviation Museum

Not in the park, but nearby is the USS Missouri Battleship. It is open for tours, but there is a charge. Although it is not part of the National Park Service system, it is run by a nonprofit organization that uses the money to maintain the Missouri. You'll need to take a shuttle to get to the USS Missouri. Exploring a battleship is a unique experience - they are gargantuan, and fascinating.

As part of the same shuttle route, the Pacific Aviation Museum, on historic Ford Island, occupies World War II-era hangars. Although we had devoted a full day to Pearl Harbor complex, there was so much to see that we had to pass up the aviation museum. It looked fascinating and would have provided another perspective - this one focused on the air forces in the Pacific theater. They have recently added their MiG Alley Korean War Exhibit built to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War. There is also 200-seat theater where screening a brief movie covering the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, including historic footage.

If You Go

Private companies provide tours totally focused on Pearl Harbor, as well as tours that include this historic complex along with other sights. If you do decide to book a tour, take one day and focus just on Pearl Harbor. There's certainly enough to see. You can also drive there - parking is ample.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

May 27, 2016

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