Getting to know every element of a place as rich in history as Pearl Harbor can be a daunting task. When planning a visit to this important site and the many exhibits and memorials contained within, it helps to have some background understanding of what awaits. Many people already have at least some knowledge about the USS Arizona, arguably the most tragic battleship present at the time of the 1941 Japanese attack. The Arizona is introduced early on, at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. This ensures that her story is known before visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.
Not every aspect of Pearl Harbor receives the attention that the USS Arizona and the memorial to the 1,177 men who lost their lives when the mighty battleship exploded and sank gets, though. Hangar 37, part of the former Ford Island Seaplane Base, is a prime example. On its own, it doesn’t get much attention as a historic entity. Despite this, the hangar was an important building at the time of the December 7, 1941 attack, and in recent years has been converted to be the first stop in a visit to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Hangar 37 in 1941
What’s now the entry point for the Pacific Aviation Museum once housed the VJ-1 utility squadron. Built in 1926 alongside the first hangar on Ford Island, Hangar 37 was later dismantled and relocated from its original spot near the seaplane ramp to accommodate the space needs of larger flying boats.
At the time of the attack, the utility squadron at Hangar 37 housed nine Grumman J2F “Ducks” and nine Sikorsky JRS-1s. Like the rest of Pearl Harbor, the men stationed at Hangar 37 were completely unprepared for Japan’s attack. Still, even as machine gun fire peppered the ground around them, they took to the grounded J2Fs and manned the mounted machine guns from the ground.
From Hangar 37, five JRS-1s departed to seek out the Japanese fleet from which the aerial striking force was launched, though the recon proved unsuccessful. With much of Pearl Harbor in disarray and most of the Pacific Fleet’s battleships sunk, sinking, or badly damaged, the space inside Hangar 37 was used to shelter survivors of the battleship USS California.
Hangar 37 Today
More than 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hangar 37 is still serving the nation. When travelers visit the Pacific Aviation Museum, Hangar 37 is where they start their journey through the history of military aviation. It’s just under half the size of its counterpart, Hangar 79, but is large enough to house seven different aircraft, all of which served during World War II. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Type 0, a fighter plane that once ruled the skies and led the attack on Pearl Harbor.