When you go on a tour of Pearl Harbor and find yourself immersed in the history and surrounded by hundreds of other curious visitors, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. You want to see everything, experience it all, and walk away with every bit of knowledge about the attack.
While absorbing all this information, it can be easy to forget to break out your camera or smartphone and take plenty of snapshots. Your time at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument isn’t something you’ll soon forget, but you’ll want to have lots of pictures to keep the memories fresh.
It may feel like everything you see is worth a snap—and that’s because it is—but there are a few major Pearl Harbor photo ops that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Of course, you don’t want to spend all of your time looking through a lens, so having a list of things to look out for will free you up to experience all of the history of the place.
These are a few of the major Pearl Harbor photo ops.
Remains of the USS Arizona
The USS Arizona Memorial is an icon of Pearl Harbor. It’s the “must-see” piece of the experience as it represents so much from the tragic day over 76 years ago when the Japanese launched their surprise attack. The design itself is an interpretation of America’s time at war, from the prideful high point before, to the low of the Pearl Harbor attack, and rising again with the victory over Japan.
What sits below the memorial, however, is the real piece of history. It’s impossible to miss, but the shadowy form of the USS Arizona (BB-39) is an absolute must for your photograph collection. Arizona was the biggest single loss of the 1941 attack, and her haunting frame lying just below the harbor’s surface is a reminder of just how devastating the attack was.
From the memorial, one of the best shots you can take is of the gun turret just barely breaching the surface. The rusted metal has withstood the passage of more than seven decades, as if to embody the American resiliency shown after the attack. With the right angle and light, you can even capture the droplets of oil slowly leaking from the ship’s cracked hull.
Surrender Deck on the Battleship Missouri
While the USS Arizona represents the start of World War II in the Pacific, the Battleship Missouri signifies its end. The Mighty Mo was the last American battleship built, and is most famous for being the vessel where Japan signed the official surrender documents.
Missouri is commanding presence at Pearl Harbor, and you’ll definitely want a photo of the full ship. Just don’t neglect to capture what may be the most significant part of the ship: the Surrender Deck.
It’s not an over-the-top display, so it can be easy to miss in the sheer magnitude of the Mighty Mo, but the Surrender Deck is marked by a roped-off plaque. The plaque marks the exact spot where the desk on which the Instrument of Surrender was signed stood.
The Remembrance Circle
The Remembrance Circle is a pair of crescent-shaped concrete walls bearing the names of the casualties of the Pearl Harbor attack. Blue plaques organized by branches of service and service location list the names of the sailors, soldiers, and Marines who were killed that day.
If you face southwest from this spot, you can snap an incredible image that captures the USS Arizona Memorial with the Battleship Missouri behind.
USS Oklahoma Memorial
USS Arizona suffered the greatest loss on December 7, 1941. The USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was the second, with a death toll of 429 men (nearly 400 of whom were unidentifiable). On Ford Island, just outside the entrance to the Battleship Missouri, you’ll find the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
Like the USS Arizona Memorial, Oklahoma’s dedication is nearly entirely white. Each of the 429 men lost is represented by a white pillar bearing his name.
The Pearl Harbor Avenger
Taking snapshots of the USS Arizona Memorial and Battleship Missouri’s Surrender Deck feels like you’re telling a story from beginning to end. Without the Bowfin submarine, however, you’re missing a piece in the middle.
USS Bowfin (SS-287), like the Mighty Mo, was not in service at the time of the attack. She was launched exactly one year to the day afterward, earning the nickname Pearl Harbor Avenger.
Taken together, the three iconic vessels at Pearl Harbor represent the beginning of the war for the United States, symbolized by USS Arizona; the war itself, fought throughout the Pacific Theater by men aboard vessels like USS Bowfin; and the final victory, marked by the Surrender Deck on USS Missouri.