Visiting Pearl Harbor is the best way of remembering those who gave their lives during the tragic events of December 7th, 1941. Spending time at the USS Arizona and Oklahoma Memorials, the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Battleship Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum provides an educational journey back in time. There is much to see and learn about, but there are some iconic Pearl Harbor moments surrounding that infamous day that are worth a closer look. These events, which unfolded during and after the attack, solidify the status of December 7th, 1941 as one of the most important days in American—and world—history.
The Sinking of USS Arizona
In total, the attack on Pearl Harbor took the lives of 2,403 Americans. That’s a shocking number on its own, but when you consider that nearly half of those losses came from one battleship, it becomes even more shocking.
That ship was the USS Arizona (BB-39). Once a mighty battleship of the US Pacific Fleet, Arizona sits rusting on the harbor floor. During the attack, she came under fire almost immediately, erupting into a fireball that killed 1,177 men.
The loss of USS Arizona represented the greatest loss of life during the assault, and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor tells her story from beginning to end. You’ll learn about Arizona’s history, her place at Battleship Row on the morning of the assault, and the great efforts to construct and maintain the USS Arizona Memorial. A wall within the white memorial lists the names of the 1,177 sailors who died during the attack.
The Sinking of USS Oklahoma
When you think of the tragedies that unfolded on the morning of December 7th, 1941, your first thought is likely the number of lives lost. 429 men were killed aboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37), a battleship that suffered a similar fate to that of Arizona.
Many of these sailors were not able to receive a proper burial until after 2015. The story of how their remains were too damaged to be identified is a tragedy on its own, one that didn’t start seeing resolution until the involvement of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The Launch of the USS Bowfin
Exactly one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy launched a new submarine: the USS Bowfin (SS-287). Bowfin was dubbed the Pearl Harbor Avenger and became one of the most prolific submarines of the Pacific Theater. Her introduction into service, her accomplishments at sea, and her ultimate fate are commemorated at the museum and park at Pearl Harbor, including tours of the submarine herself.
The launching of USS Bowfin was an important occasion that symbolized the American unwillingness to give up ground in the Pacific, even as Japanese forces fought bitterly in battles where they were clearly going to lose.
Japan Signs the Surrender
Perhaps the most important moment of World War II history, while not exactly a Pearl Harbor moment, is the conclusion of the war that the December 7th, 1941 attack started. The Empire of Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Harbor, and that moment took place aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63).
Visitors learn all about the signing of Japan’s surrender while exploring the decks and interiors of an authentic American battleship. The Battleship Missouri is another must-see site at Pearl Harbor.