A Historic Tour of Pearl Harbor: 7 Must-Visit Sites

On December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7th “a date which will live in infamy.” Many of us have heard about the stories of the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor which launched the United States into World War II. Some people might have a personal connection to Pearl Harbor, while others may have visiting the memorials at the top of their bucket list. If you visit, please be respectful of the memorials and mindful of the history.

The USS Arizona Memorial is one of the top tourist destinations on Oahu. Many people do not visit, or even know about, other areas of the Pearl Harbor Historic Park. Below is a roundup of some of the memorials and historic sites connected to December 7, 1941:

*COVID 19 Note: Many areas of the Pearl Harbor Historic Park are not currently operating due to the pandemic. Please check local websites for up to date information regarding the memorials before visiting. You may be able to drive near the memorials during the current closures to pay your respects.

USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial, Photo Courtesy of PHNM Facebook Page

The USS Arizona Memorial is the iconic historic site that many associate with the December 7th attacks. When it is operating, the U.S. Navy runs boats from the Visitor Center out to the water observation memorial from 7:30am until 3:00pm. Tickets can be reserved in advance from here. There are two main reservation windows: about otw months before a preferred date (about 300 tickets are released at 7:00am Hawaii time) or the day before (500 tickets are released). There is also a limited amount of walk-up tickets available the day of. I highly recommend taking one of the first boats of the day, if you can get tickets. The first time I visited, I was on the first boat of the day. It was peaceful and the memorial was quiet as there were only a handful of us on the first boat.

The museum that is at the Visitor Center is incredible. There are historical artifacts as well as stories throughout the museum. Along the waterfront is a small memorial with the names of civilians who perished during the attack. They also have engraved some of the stories about the morning of the attack, as well as first-hand accounts of the attempts at rescue and keeping the harbor operating during and immediately after the attacks.

If you have access to Ford Island, you can also see the USS Arizona Memorial from the eastern side of Ford Island. This is a different view of the memorial than most people get. This view shows you where Battleship Row was moored, with multiple ships moored side by side off Ford Island. At the time of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Ford Island was a Naval Air Station, with some Navy families living on the island.

USS Bowfin Museum

Pearl Harbor Historic Park Visitor Center, Photo Courtesy of PHNM Facebook Page

The USS Bowfin can be accessed from the Pearl Harbor Historic Park Visitor Center. The USS Bowfin (SS-287) was launched December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The USS Bowfin fought in the Pacific during WWII. Since 1981, the USS Bowfin has operated as a museum, part of the Pacific Submarine Museum. The museum consists of both indoor and outdoor exhibits, and is currently undergoing renovations. Upon completion of the renovations, the museum will be rebranded as “The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor.”

The USS Bowfin is a fun exhibit to experience, particularly to be able to walk through the submarine and see how compact the quarters were on a WWII submarine. The museum will open no earlier than October 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check the website for more information on reopening. Even though the museum is closed, there is a lot of educational materials and posts available on the USS Bowfin website.

 “Mighty Mo” Battleship Missouri Memorial

USS Missouri, Photo Courtesy of Hawaii Magazine

The Battleship Missouri and Museum is docked off Ford Island. If you do not have base access, you can take a shuttle from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, or take a city bus to the USS Missouri.  Information on how to access the Battleship Missouri can be found here.

The USS Missouri was first launched in 1944, and she saw action in WWII through the Gulf War. Mighty Mo is best known for having been the site of the WWII Surrender Ceremony on September 2, 1945. The Battleship Missouri Museum hosts many different events throughout the year, including educational events and overnight camps. During non-COVID times, the museum is open for tours. Even though Mighty Mo is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, you can still do a virtual tour.

USS Oklahoma Memorial

USS Oklahoma Memorial, Photo Courtesy of World of Warships

The USS Oklahoma Memorial is situated outside of the Battleship Missouri Museum. The USS Oklahoma was a battleship docked off Battleship Row during the December 7 attacks. On the morning of December 7, the USS Oklahoma was struck by a torpedo and capsized, taking with her 429 men. This striking memorial, dedicated in 2007, consists of a black marble wall (signifying the hull of the Oklahoma) with white marble pillars, each with a name of a lost sailor or marine. The white pillars represent sailors “manning the rails” in their dress whites.

USS Utah Memorial

USS Utah Memorial, Photo Courtesy of PearlHarbor.org

Situated on Ford Island behind the Navy Lodge, this is a memorial that is often overlooked. The memorial itself is closed to the public, but members of the military and their families can access the memorial to pay their respects. The Utah was docked on the north side of Ford Island and was hit by two successive torpedoes and within minutes was listing to 40 degrees. In total,58 crewmen on the Utah died on December 7, with four crewmembers remain recovered and buried onshore. The USS Utah remains a water cemetery, with 54 crewmen interred in the hull to serve their eternal watch.

Efforts to recovery and salvage the Utah failed, with the Navy declaring the Utah a permanent grave site in 1956. In 1972, a permanent plaque and memorial were constructed. In 1989, the Utah was designated a national historic landmark. The memorial is small, and receives few visitors to the site each year.

 Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Photo courtesy of PHAM Facebook Page

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is located on Ford Island and can be reached via a shuttle bus from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The museum is temporarily closed, but they have a “Pearl Harbor at Home” virtual series, which can be found here.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum consists of both historic and modern aircraft and artifacts. Hangar 37 is home to WWII artifacts and includes an exhibit of life on Oahu before the December 7 attacks. Hangar 37 also has a Flight Simulator. Hangar 79 consists of exhibits that document the rise of American aviation after WWII, and also houses a restoration shop.

 Courtyard of Heroes/Hickam Field

The Courtyard of Heroes, Photo courtesy of PACAF

Driving around Hickam, you might notice some buildings with bullet holes. There are many areas of both Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor which have these historic scars, many of which you can see from your car. These are from the morning of December 7, 1941, when Japanese aircraft targeted Hickam Field and destroyed many of the airplanes that were housed in the hangars. The attack on Hickam Field focused on the hangars, but the Hawaiian Air Depot and other base facilities were hit by gunfire and bombs as well. The attack on Hickam Field killed 121 servicemen and wounded 274.

The Courtyard of Heroes is another little known memorial to Pearl Harbor. Situated in the courtyard of the Headquarters of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), this small memorial houses a beautiful courtyard with an eternal flame memorial statue. The courtyard serves as a memorial to all those lost in the Pacific Theater in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. If you visit the courtyard, you can see a framed flag that was flying over Hickam Field on December 7, 1941. 

There are many other memorial sites dedicated to WWII situated around Oahu. Which memorials have you been to?

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