When thinking about visiting Hawaii, one can reasonably suppose such a thought would conjure up images of sitting on the white sands of Waikiki Beach with views of iconic Diamond Head in the background and a girl dancing hula in the foreground. But it may come to the surprise of some that the most visited attraction in Hawaii is not a beach, volcanic cinder cone or hula show or anything of that sort. Furthermore, not too many people know that this top attraction is actually a part of America’s National Park system. With over 2 million visitors annually, this most frequented attraction in all of Hawaii is the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
For many Americans, the Arizona Memorial could be among the historic places in the country to visit. This hallowed site marks the beginning of America’s entry into World War II and the sunken wreck of the battleship USS Arizona not only honors those that died in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on that fateful day of December 7, 1941, but all American servicemen and civilians who gave their lives in the service of their country.
As you enter the grounds of the memorial’s visitor center, you will find exhibits about the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as about the ships that were moored there on Battleship Row. After watching a video about the events of that day, you will board a boat that will ferry you to the memorial itself. When you disembark off the boat, you will enter the white arched shaped memorial built perpendicular over the sunken remains of the Arizona. The memorial’s understated and simple, but nonetheless elegant, design of this memorial, which was constructed in 1962, is meant to honor the sacrifices of the 1,100-plus sailors whose remains are still entombed within the wreck. It is a solemn, but memorable place that all Americans, as well as visitors from other countries, should see and experience one day.
Perhaps what makes visiting the Arizona Memorial so memorable is that there are so many other great and interesting things to also see right next to it. One of those things is the adjacent USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. Here, in addition to a number of detailed exhibits, you can board the cramped confines of a fully restored World War II submarine, the Bowfin, and get a sense of what life was like for the officers and seamen who served on it.
The Arizona Memorial and the Bowfin Submarine Museum are now a part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which is a part of America’s National Parks system. In addition to other parts of Pearl Harbor, the Valor in the Pacific National Monument has locations in Alaska and California.
Directly across the memorial on the other side of the harbor on Ford Island, you can visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial by boarding the USS Missouri, nicknamed the “Mighty Mo.” First commissioned in 1944, the USS Missouri, served during the latter parts of World War II, the Korean War as well as in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In addition to its lengthy service life, the USS Missouri was also notable because it was the last battleship to be constructed by the US Navy.
The USS Missouri and USS Arizona memorials are fitting bookends to America’s legacy during World War II. The Arizona is a lasting symbol of America’s initial involvement in World War II; while USS Missouri serves as a fitting reminder of the conclusion of that war as the battleship’s deck is where Japan signed the surrender papers that ended Word War II.
Also nearby the USS Missouri is the Pacific Aviation Museum, where you can see restored World War II aircraft as well historic US and Soviet-made planes from the Korean and Vietnam War eras. You might also be fortunate to see some of the volunteer staff in the process of restoring historic aircraft. The museum’s website proudly proclaims itself as “one of the nation’s top 10 aviation museums according to TripAdvisor.”
For history and military buffs especially, spending a day at the Arizona Memorial and other nearby memorials and museums will definitely be a day well spent on your next trip to the Aloha State.