Sixty-eight years ago today, at 7:53 a.m., the Japanese started their attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor on Hawaii’s island of Oahu. Taken by complete surprise, the base was attacked until 9:45 a.m. Eight battleships were damaged and five were sunk. Over 2,300 servicemen were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded.
It was the USS Arizona that suffered the greatest loss of life; 1,177 men perished that day. Many of their bodies remain entombed under the warm waters of the Pacific in the remnant of the Arizona.
This past spring, my best friend, Holly Miller, and I had the opportunity to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. We both knew the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to experience. We knew no trip to the island would be complete without visiting the memorial and paying our respects.
When you arrive, you are handed tickets which indicate when your tour starts. Until then, you can shop in the little gift shop or look through the museum.
One of the displays in the museum is a replica of the Arizona that gives you an overall picture of the sunken ship and the memorial built to serve as a reminder of all the lives lost that day.
Once it’s time for your group to start the tour, you are taken into a theater. When the lights go out, the mood changes. From the first roar of the Japanese attack fighter planes, you no longer are a tourist taking in the beauty of the clear water and sandy beaches — you are an American feeling an increasing wave of hatred and a fierce sense of protection for the memory of those who gave everything. It was hard to look around the room at the Japanese tourists and not wonder if they were sitting there feeling pride in the ambush administered by their country’s leaders.
The film is emotional, from footage and photographs of the devastation and destruction to the words of survivors describing what happened that day.
After the film, you are ushered outside to a shuttle boat that takes you to the memorial. On this ride you are overwhelmed by an eerie feeling that just sits in the pit of your stomach — it’s a feeling you just can’t escape. Young sailors reminded us that the memorial is a place of solitude and remembrance; any vocal communication was to be kept at a minimum and lower than a whisper.
Although the memorial becomes bigger the closer we get, it dwarfs in size to the USS Missouri that sits farther back in the bay.
The 184-foot-long memorial sits across the hull of the Arizona and has three distinct areas. The first is an entry room, the second an observation area and the third a marble shrine to all those who died on the Arizona.
The design of the memorial is sleek and simple and full of meaning. The observation area has sections of floor open to see areas of the Arizona underneath. The ceiling and side walls have large open areas to see the length of the Arizona and the America flag waving in the Pacific breeze overhead. This area sits lower than the two ends. This, according to architect Alfred Preis, expresses “initial defeat and ultimate victory.” His tone is one of serenity without “overtones of sadness” so that each visitor takes away his or her own reactions.
After moving from room to room, it is the marble wall inscribed with name after name that pulls at your heart even more than walking through a city cemetery. To see the names and hear the story of their life and death at Pearl Harbor pulls you into the sanctity of the memorial and the liberation of all the lost souls.
The simplicity of the memorial is overwhelmed by the fate and power of the submerged Arizona. To have the opportunity to stand above water where so many men lived their last minutes on earth — as proud Americans — is humbling, to say the least.