BY ALLAN SEIDEN – Many of the people I know take pride in having never been to Pearl Harbor. Like New Yorkers who’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty or the top of the Empire State Building…two prototypically tourist experiences, the disclaimer adding to their “kama`aina” credentials.
Pearl Harbor, like both the Statue of Liberty and the top of the Empire State Building (be there at dusk), is indeed worth a visit. Even if you’ve been before, the new $56-million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, expanded from 3.5 acres to more than 70 acres, offers centralized ticketing and departures to the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin, the USS Missouri, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum (PAM). The new visitor complex serves as a great open-air museum, linking Pearl Harbor, where the war in the Pacific began, with Japan’s unconditional surrender on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
The link between the two is the reason behind the name change for what had been the USS Arizona Memorial to World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, an upgrade in National Park Service (NPS) rankings that also expands its mission, providing a context for events in the Road to War theme of the first Exhibit Gallery smoothly segueing into the attack itself.
The range of attractions gives substance that theme. It also proves a plus, providing worthwhile things to do in the likelihood of a wait of one or more hours for the ticketed departures for the USS Arizona Memorial.
Aside from convenience, the new Visitor Center seamlessly connects visitors to the setting, with a harbor-side promenade with intermittent memorials and time-and-place storyboards, and a front row view of the Arizona Memorial, the Missouri, and the Bowfin across the waters of Pearl Harbor’s East Loch, waters covered in oil and violently aflame when the last Japanese planes departed, returning to aircraft carriers anchored 230 miles north of Oahu.
Two informative Exhibition Galleries, though small considering the scope of the war and the complexities that preceded it, provide a frame of reference for the attack and its 2,390 fatalities. The theaters, where a visit to the Arizona Memorial begins, are adjacent. A powerful 23-minute documentary film, digitally enhanced for clarity, is a sobering prelude to the Memorial itself.
The USS Arizona Memorial
Alfred Preiss’ simple uplifting design has stood the test of time, providing a place to honor the 1177 men lost aboard the USS Arizona that December morning of a total 2,930 fatalities. The Arizona, covered in about five feet of water, lies below the Memorial’s central deck.
The rainbow sheen on the water reveals the quart of oil that still leaks each day from the sunken hull, resting on the bottom in 40-foot-deep waters, with Navy Seals frequently examining the hull for deterioration.
Some bodies were removed in the initial rescue effort, but 900 bodies remain encased in the ship’s tangled wreckage, many bodies burned beyond identifying in fires that raged for two days after a high altitude bomb exploded below decks at about 8:06 AM.
The Arizona’s badly damaged superstructure above the water line was salvaged and recycled as spare parts for other battleships.
The Navy operates a launch that departs the theater on a 10-minute-long trip to the Memorial.
Each theater feeds to a Navy launch, and visitors remain with their theater group through the return to the Visitor Center 75-minutes after entering the theater. www.nps.gov
The USS Bowfin Submarine Park and Museum
It is hard to believe that 80 men spent months at sea in the confines of this restored WWII torpedo submarine nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger in honor of its record number of wartime kills following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
If you’ve got just an hour to spare before heading over to the Arizona, consider an onboard visit to the USS Bowfin with its vintage technology and design, cramped quarters, and brass torpedo bays polished to a brilliant shine.
Ashore there are a number of hands-on vintage submarine displays and the often-overlooked museum, which is worth some browsing time. www.bowfin.org
The Pacific Aviation Museum
The Pacific Aviation Museum is situated in two WWII-era hangars on Ford Island that still bear the scars of the attack.
The collection includes beautifully restored vintage aircraft, including a Japanese Zero fighter-bomber like those involved in the attack, a B-25, workhorse of the American air fleet and 24 other vintage aircraft
Work is soon to begin on a restoration of the landmark training tower adjacent to the hangar, the next phase of the museum’s on-going expansion. The Laniakea Café is a lunch recommend. www.pacificaviationmuseum.org
The USS Missouri Bb 63 Memorial
In was on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, that Japan ended the war that started on Dec. 7, 1941, signing a document of unconditional surrender on the Missouri’s main deck.
Anchored just off of Ford Island, where the USS California was on the day of the attack, the USS Missouri tribute to a victory that took nearly four years of brutal warfare to secure.
You can wander about the Missouri on your own, with an audio tour and text-and-picture displays that provide the basics.
The 90-minute Battle Stations tour, led by docents with plenty to share, costs an additional $25. www.ussmissouri.com.
USS Oklahoma Memorial
This memorial, just outside the gates to the USS Missouri, names and honors the 429 crewmen lost on the USS Oklahoma, second only to the Arizona. The bus drop off is adjacent to the memorial.
While the Arizona Memorial, museum, and introductory film are all free, there are fees for the USS Missouri, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine Park and Museum. Tickets are sold individually or in package combinations, with tickets only good for day of purchase. Missouri, Bowfin, and PAM: $47 (adults), $21 (12 and younger); Missouri & PAM: $38/$18; Missouri/Bowfin or PAM/Bowfin $28/ $12. with senior and military discounts. Audio tours ($7.50) include 28 informative narratives that include the Exhibit Galleries, the Arizona Memorial, and the harbor-side promenade.
Timing Your Day
Hours: Pearl Harbor Visitor Center: 7 AM – 5 PM;
Arizona Memorial: Navy launch over at 7:45 AM, last at 3:30 PM, returning at 4:15 PM.
Sundays are the slowest day with the shortest wait.
*Avoid the peak summer/holiday months or days when cruise ships are in port. That’s when the daily supply of 4,200 tickets the Arizona Memorial will likely be given away by mid-morning. 150 tickets are given out for each film, shown at 15-minute intervals.
*Use your wait for the Arizona Memorial to visit other Pearl Harbor attractions. An hour times out well for the Bowfin. Two hours are enough for the Missouri or the PAM.; three hours and you can do both.
*Buses depart the Visitor Center every 15 minutes for Ford Island and the PAM, the USS Missouri and the USS Oklahoma Memorial. Shuttle fare is included with ticketing. The first bus departs at 8AM. The last bus returns at 5 PM.
*No purses, bags or packs are allowed. Leave them in your car trunk (parking lots are patrolled) or check them for $3 at the Visitor Center.
*Stash some cash or a credit card and ID in your pocket or carry your wallet to pay for admission and bookstore/gift shop purchases. The Arizona Memorial store has a large selection of wartime books and digital videos.
Meet Our Survivors
Health and schedules permitting, Pearl Harbor survivors warmly welcome visitors on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8-11 AM, at signing tables usually adjacent to the Arizona Memorial Bookstore. Authors, myself included, sign books on most days.
A Lunch Break
*Sandwiches and cold drinks are available at the snack shop adjacent to the Arizona Memorial Bookstore.
*For tasty hot dogs, soup, subs, and soft ice cream, head to the stand at the USS Bowfin, where there’s ample seating.
*Laniakea, at the Pacific Aviation Museum, is a good choice if you’re heading to Ford Island.
*Schooners, with scenic harbor views, offers an extensive lunch and dinner menu at $12-$25 per person.
© Allan Seiden, 2011