It would be unrealistic to assume that everyone who comes to Pearl Harbor has the desire—and the time—to see everything the site has to offer. There are dozens of stories to read about, multiple memorials to see, and countless artifacts on display, but not everyone is a history buff wanting to experience it all. If you want to get the essence of Pearl Harbor without committing a full day of your precious vacation time, there is one thing you absolutely must see.

The tragedy at Pearl Harbor struck the nation hard, with the devastation of the naval base and loss of over 2,400 lives. It was this loss of life that roused the nation from its isolationism and set it on a course to repel both the European and Pacific aggressors. While reminders of this loss can be found all over Pearl Harbor, there’s one memorial, right in the middle of the harbor, that commemorates the greatest single loss of the attack.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor Sinking

USS Arizona forward magazine explosion

During the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy lost two battleships – the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) and the USS Arizona (BB-39). The Arizona is usually considered the greatest tragedy of Pearl Harbor due to the immense loss of life experienced when the ship exploded and sank into the harbor.

When a bomb penetrated the deck and detonated her forward powder magazine, the doomed ship sank to her watery grave, taking with her the lives of 1,177 men. Only 335 of the men on board survived the sinking of the USS Arizona.

When the ship was deemed too damaged to even attempt recovering, it was decided that she would remain in the harbor where she sank. It wasn’t long before she became a symbol of the great tragedy of Pearl Harbor, and a rallying cry for the rest of the war that followed.

The Memorial

Due to the massive loss of life, the USS Arizona Memorial, a beautiful white structure built directly over the sunken remains of the once-mighty battleship, is the most prominent installation within Pearl Harbor.

Memorial above the wreckage of the USS Arizona

Below the memorial itself, the wreckage of the Arizona lies peacefully, the remains of most of the men who perished still entombed within. Looking down on the imposing vessel, metal rusting from years of being submerged in the salt water of the harbor, you can see droplets of oil—known as the “Black Tears of the Arizona“—still leaking from her hull.

The Shrine Room of the memorial features a wall inscribed with the names of each of the men lost when the battleship sank. Visitors experience a wide range of emotions when contemplating this tragically long list, from sadness to anger to resolve, exactly what the United States went through once word of the attack started to spread throughout the nation.

A visit to Pearl Harbor belongs on everyone’s must-do list when coming to Hawaii, and if time allows only one stop, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center—which includes the Arizona Memorial program—should be it. The most time-efficient way to experience the Arizona Memorial is on a guided Pearl Harbor tour that includes transportation from the resort areas of Waikiki or Ko Olina and Aulani.

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