I’ve flown in over Pearl Harbor many times. I try to get an "A" seat on that flight specifically because I like to look out at Pearl Harbor on the final approach into Honolulu. But until this past trip I’d never actually made it out to the museum. What a mistake on my part.
In his address to Congress the following day, FDR called December 7th, 1941 "[A] date which will live in infamy." More than 70 years later, his words ring true every single day. My visit to the memorial of the USS Arizona, in Pearl Harbor, came on a beautiful June afternoon. Even with the glorious weather, the beautiful blue skies and clear water, it was hard to smile too much. I was happy to see the memorial, to see the memory of the fallen soldiers so lovingly cared for. Still, it was an incredibly emotional few hours.
There is a movie which shows photos and video shot on that day, gut-wrenching stuff. You hear from survivors telling in their own words the pain of experience. And then you board a boat and are ferried out on to the memorial itself. The memorial isn’t particularly large – it can barely fit the 150 arriving guests while the 150 from the previous cycle are queuing to depart. But what it lacks in physical size it makes up for in emotional oomph.
The oil inside the ship still bubbles out, a drop or two at a time.
The ranger at the memorial will describe the ceremony for interring survivors from that attack with their shipmates when they pass away today or tell how, for years after it sank a flag was raised each day on a temporary platform on the Arizona until the memorial work could be completed.
And there is the wall at the far end with the names of all the men entombed below.
Emotionally draining doesn’t begin to describe the experience of the 90 minutes on the tour or the rest of the time I spent wandering around the site. Still, I’m mad at myself for waiting so long to finally manage a visit. It turns out that I mostly misunderstood the logistics and was too lazy to get it right.
How to Visit the USS Arizona Memorial
Speaking of logistics, here’s the deal: It is VERY easy to visit the Memorial. Even if you don’t have a rental car, it is quite easy. There are several bus routes which travel between Waikiki and the memorial (Routes 42 and 20 are the best options as they do not require a transfer at Ala Moana center) and it takes just over an hour to get over there, depending on traffic. You can also take a taxi or go on one of the tour shuttles. Being on a budget and trying to avoid the tour groups the bus worked great for me.
Accessing the USS Arizona Memorial is free but getting tickets can be difficult. When I arrived at 10:30am on the day I visited the next available walk-up tickets were for 3pm. There are plenty of other things to do while at the site (the USS Bowfin was a particularly cool tour; report on that will be forthcoming) to pass the time but if you can at all plan in advance booking a specific time slot is possible and definitely recommended. The bookings are handled online and there is a $1.50 fee to book. Yeah, that makes it no longer free, but you’re guaranteed the time slot which is worth that small investment.
My other main concern was that I rarely go anywhere without a backpack and bags are not permitted inside the site. Fortunately there is a bag-check facility adjacent to the entrance where they’ll store your stuff for $3/bag. Not an issue if you drive and have a trunk to put your stuff in but if you’re on the bus then the bag-check is a welcome option; it allowed me to go from the hotel to the Memorial to the airport with all my stuff in a rather efficient loop.
The final caution I’ll offer is that the food concession options at the site are rather minimal, and that’s being generous. There are pre-packaged sandwiches at one kiosk and another selling hot dogs and soup. If you are there around lunch time bring your own or be prepared for a less than spectacular dining experience.
- I finally discovered the part of Waikiki I like
- Remembering the destruction of Hiroshima
- Paying respects at the US Army cemetery in Tunisia
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I’ve been several times and that’s one of the first things I do on a visit to HNL. I love the renovations done to the Memorial site, got to see it last September. Much better than before.
My best recommendation is to get there when the doors open early in the morning, if you’re flying in from the mainland, you’re probably up early anyway due to the time change, so it’s a great way to start off your trip. You beat all the tour busses, and can be done early enough to have the rest of your day to play.
Of course, you can stay longer and see the USS Bowfin Museum. 🙂
Did you also get to visit the USS Missouri or the Pacific Aviation Museum? Those were also both amazing exhibits, and provided much better lunch options. I went for the first time last month and it’s definitely a very moving experience.
I tend to avoid HNL except for two reasons: to stay at the Halekulani Hotel and to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial. My first visit to Pearl Harbor is one of the most emotional memories of my life. The docents (many are veterans) eloquently express and honor the words and stories of those who have passed and those who survived. This moving tribute is one that everyone should experience if they have the opportunity to travel to the 50th state.
Thanks for the mention, Frankie C. The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor has some good lunch options!
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