Pearl Harbor is not just a naval museum. Pearl is an active U.S. base with thousands of personnel. Destroyers and submarines move in and out all the time, and the air is filled with flights of warplanes, helicopters and transports. Civilian and commercial craft are everywhere. When I first visited the harbor, I found it strange that this popular area was the scene of such horrendous destruction in 1941. We have much to remember about a place like this.
The museum itself is beautiful. There is an open feel to the place, made even lovelier by the warm Hawaiian air. Displays and artifacts are everywhere. You’ll definitely want to visit the gift shop and see how many souvenirs you can cram into your luggage. Most visitors plan to see the USS Arizona Memorial across the water. A brief boat ride is required. Before doing so, the visitors are led into a comfortable theater and shown a short film narrated by Stockard Channing. The facts about this ill-fated battleship are simply amazing. Arizona was not the only sunken ship in the attack but made prominent for her losses:
- Out of 1,512 officers and enlisted aboard USS Arizona, 1,177 were killed. These accounted for more than half the losses suffered in the American fleet that day.
- The battleship received eight bomb hits. The killing blow came from an 800-kg bomb dropped by a plane from the Japanese carrier Hiryu.
- Fires from the wrecked ship burned for two days.
- Even today, oil leaks to the surface from Arizona‘s fuel bunkers.
- Perhaps the most staggering thought of all: 38 sets of brothers were assigned to USS Arizona. In the ensuing chaos of Pearl Harbor, 23 sets of brothers were lost. (As well as a father and son.)
You will not find a more tranquil place than the USS Arizona Memorial. This bow-like chamber straddles the wreck of the sunken warship. An American flag is raised over the structure. The rusted remnants of the superstructure stand above the waters. Inappropriate talking and noises are discouraged as you walk above the submerged remains of our honored dead. The return to shore is a strange experience. . . like a return to the parking lot after walking through Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, it happened. Yes, it was real. The hulk of a massive capital ship, once a proud member of the U.S. Navy, is testament to the sudden losses we know from war.
The air is clear once again. My ears are not deafened by explosions. The violence still happens, far away from Hawaii, and I often hope that peace is something finalized in my lifetime. There will always be a volunteer to protect his country, and a volunteer working toward the end of war. Until then, we must visit such places like Pearl Harbor, see the very Arizona beneath the waters, and remember all that we must know.
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