On December 7th, 1941, Japanese fighters and bombers swooped in on Pearl Harbor, devastating airfields and mighty battleships lined up at Battleship Row. The attack is such an important part of American history that Pearl Harbor became the main site of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
During your time at Pearl Harbor, you can expect a journey through time, starting with the build-up to the attack, through the attack itself, and the immediate aftermath.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
Serving as your introduction to Pearl Harbor, the Visitor Center is a wealth of information about the attack. This way-station provides you with everything you need to know before embarking throughout the rest of the harbor. The “Road to War” and “Attack” exhibit galleries showcase memorabilia and artifacts from that era, showing what life was like in Hawaii before and in the aftermath of the attack.
Pay attention to the people around you as the this is where you’re most likely to meet veteran sailors who survived the devastating attack.
USS Arizona Memorial
At the Visitor Center, you’re shown a 23-minute documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The short film lays the foundation for the trip through time that follows: a brief US Navy shuttle boat ride across the harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial.
The wreckage of the mighty vessel still sits at the bottom of the harbor, visible from the pristine white structure that is the Arizona Memorial. Expect to feel the impact of the memorial as you catch sight of the continued oil leak that drips from the ship’s hull. These are the “Black Tears of the Arizona,” cried for the over 1,100 sailors who died aboard the battleship on that tragic day.
Your tour of the Battleship Missouri uplifts the spirits after the somber experience of the Arizona Memorial. This vessel, affectionately known as the “Mighty Mo,” survived World War II and actually became one of its best-known American battleships. Representatives of the Allied forces and the Empire of Japan gathered aboard the Missouri to witness the signing of the Instrument of Surrender, ending the war.
Walk on that same deck and tour the interior workings of the ship to see how sailors lived in the cramped conditions.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park
Another World War II vessel, nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” this submarine serves as the focal point of the accompanying museum, which displays thousands of artifacts related to submarines and naval battle. The Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park provides a break from the general heaviness of Pearl Harbor to enjoy some lighthearted exploration and learning.
Pacific Aviation Museum
Housing aircraft of World War II and beyond, the Pacific Aviation Museum gives you a look at the most important plane of Pearl Harbor – the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero. You’ll get up close to the A6M2 Model 21 Type 0 that attacked the harbor, killing over 2,400 servicemen and dozens of civilians. The museum also has on display torpedoes and bombs used to cause the bulk of the damage on Battleship Row and throughout the harbor.
Punchbowl National Cemetery
Your trip through the history of Pearl Harbor ends with a drive through the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Within a naturally-formed volcanic crater lie the graves of thousands of American service members. Having fought in military conflicts across time, these brave sailors and soldiers gave their all to protect their nation.