USS Arizona Memorial
The main component of the Pearl Harbor
Historical Sites complex and heart of the so-called “World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument” on O'ahu, Hawaii
. The mostly submerged wreck of the old battleship is both a shrine for remembrance and a tomb for ca. 900 sailors who perished with their ship in the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The USS Arizona was a World-War-One
-era super-dreadnought battleship launched in 1915 and commissioned in 1916, though she never saw service in battle during that war.
She was transferred from California to Hawaii in 1940, as tensions with imperial Japan
were mounting, to join the USA
's Pacific Fleet.
Thus she was moored alongside seven other battleships and several cruisers and destroyers along the so-called “battleship row” in Pearl Harbor
when the surprise attacks by the Japanese came on 7 December 1941.
Of all the ships hit by Japanese bombs and torpedoes, the USS Arizona suffered the worst blow of them all. Hit directly by an armour-piercing bomb in an munitions magazine she exploded and went down in a burning inferno, taking 1177 crew with her. This was by far the highest death toll of the day and accounts for almost half of the total US casualties in the attack. Only a few hundred survived, and of the dead even fewer bodies could be retrieved. Some 900 remain inside the sunken hull, which thus became their permanent tomb.
Survivors have the right to request burial with their shipmates, during which an urn is placed inside the wreck by specially-trained divers. This has happened a few dozen times and there are still survivors left who might opt to join their dead comrades in the future, though their numbers aren't many these days. When I was there the latest burial had taken place in 2013.
The memorial built across the wreck and unveiled in 1962 was designed by an artist who, interestingly, was from Austria
. He had fled his native country when the Nazis
came to power and settled in Hawaii
. As a citizen of an “enemy country” he was interned following the Pearl Harbor attacks, but remained in Hawaii after the war.
The design resembling a white crossbar at 90 degrees above the ship with raised bits at the end and a depressed middle section is supposed to symbolize initial damage (the middle) but resilience in the end (the upper outer bits).
The ship is not completely dead, by the way. Instead it has become an artificial reef for local marine life, which is in fact thriving on the old hull. The hull itself appears to be alive of sorts too … releasing drops of oil constantly as if still sending signals from below. It is reckoned that there are still thousands of tons of oil left inside the ship's tanks, so that this release of oil forming shiny rainbow-coloured patches on the water's surface will continue for many years to come.
What there is to see:
The tour to the USS Arizona is part of the free service at the Pearl Harbor
memorial site. But you need to obtain a ticket, either by reserving a slot in advance or by picking up one of the walk-in tickets handed out each day on a first-come-first-served basis. For this it makes sense to get there early.
Once you get to the ticket office you'll be allocated a time slot for your tour of the USS Arizona. Unless you are there very early you'll probably be given a ticket for some time slot a couple of hours away, in which case you could explore the rest of the memorial complex and its museums first.
When you get to the meeting time for your tour at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater, a ranger (or two) will first say a few introductory words, usually heavy with patriotic pathos. Any military personnel on active duty, and especially any veterans will get a special welcome and a round of applause is customary. This display of American military patriotism may be hard to handle for some visitors, but that's the way it is and you have to either accept it, or, if you think you can't, then do not go on these tours.
Once the histrionic prelude is over, the group of visitors will be shepherded into the adjacent movie theatre for the introductory film. This 23-minute documentary is very much to the point and more informative in nature rather than overladen with patriotic messages, which I found quite a relief. (The commodification
at Pearl Harbor
is overall very factual, objective and balanced – it's just the intro before the Arizona film that deviates from this noticeably!)
Once the film is over you are invited to board the ferry to the memorial as such. There will be lots of health-and-safety comments and commands ... again, you just have to go along with it.
At the landing pontoon by the memorial you are instructed to refrain from taking photos and instead make your way up the ramp into the memorial itself quickly. You can see the point of these orders. Otherwise it would take forever to clear the boat and the landing stage if everybody immediately started taking pictures.
UPDATE May 2018: curreently this part of the tour is suspended, due to repairs to the landing stage at the memorial structure, but boat tours around the wreck continue to run.
Inside the white memorial is a very solemn space. In fact you are admonished to behave appropriately here. Part of this is also a mild dress code: no swimwear or offensive T-shirts, but sandals and shorts are fine.
The names of all those who perished in the wreck are listed at the far end on a white marble wall. Set aside from this are two marble blocks with the names of those survivor sailors who opted to be buried with their comrades in the wreck (see above
). Next to the one on the right a wreath was displayed on an easel, apparently laid down by the “Defense Minister for Int'l Affairs, Japan
”. Remarkable. Two so-called tree-of-life “windows” to the side let in light.
Outside this memorial space towards the centre of the memorial, there are gaps in the floor allowing a closer glimpse of part of the wreck's hull. You can see how seaweed, fish and other marine life has appropriated the wreck as their home. Life on a memorial for the dead!
Otherwise you can't actually see much of the wreck. The only bits of the ship still poking out of the water are the rusty bases of two gun turrets, the funnel, a vent and a bit of a mast leg onto which a memorial flagpole has been attached. (The ladder leading down inside the old rusty tube is quite spooky, though.)
There's a large panel with a detailed plan of the ship as it was before the attack and one of the wreck as it is today. So you can compare. A National Park ranger is also on hand to answer questions and provide more information.
But mainly this is not so much a place for information, but rather for contemplation. It's a pilgrimage site, a shrine and a tomb. There are just a few extra plaques, outlining the design and dedication of the memorial, as well as one explaining the practice of burials at the wreck (see above
An eerie element of the site is the oil that still seeps from the wreck. These releases of oil make for rainbow-coloured patches floating on the water just by the memorial. It's almost as if the ship is still trying to send signals to the world above. When the air is still or only a light wind is blowing from the right direction, you can also smell that oil.
When the time slot given to your group is up, you will be called back to the boat and ferried back to the main memorial complex. En route you might get some glimpses of today's Navy ships in port. When I was there, a huge supply ship was moored just opposite the USS Arizona. And further on I spotted a couple of modern destroyers. And of course you'll always see the big grey mass of the USS Missouri
now permanently moored just south of the Arizona memorial.
Access and costs: highly regimented, but free.
Visiting the USS Arizona memorial is by boat tour only. You can either reserve a ticket online (for a fee) or pick up one of the free walk-in tickets issued daily on a first-come-first-served basis from 7 a.m.; when opting for this try to get to Pearl Harbor
early, as the free tickets may run out during the course of the day, and at peak times may be gone by mid-morning.
Make sure you're at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater well in time for your tour. If you are late, you may no longer be allowed in.
Tours run from 7:30 a.m. and the last tour is at 3 p.m.; each tour has a capacity of 150 participants, so you won't ever have the place to yourself.
If the weather is bad, especially when there are high winds, the boat service to the memorial may be suspended. This is at the discretion of the US Navy, who operate the boats, and therefore non-negotiable.
Time required: The tour lasts more or less exactly 75 minutes, including a 23- minute introductory film. There is no leeway with regard to these timings.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Pearl Harbor
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Hawaii
- USS Arizona 01 - main memorial structure
- USS Arizona 02 - arrival by boat
- USS Arizona 03 - plaque
- USS Arizona 04 - schematic outline
- USS Arizona 05 - wall of names
- USS Arizona 06 - wreath from Japan
- USS Arizona 07 - post-WWII burials at the site
- USS Arizona 08 - stump of one of the gun turrets
- USS Arizona 09 - flowers on the wreck
- USS Arizona 10 - oil still seeping out from the wreck
- USS Arizona 11 - submerged wreck
- USS Arizona 12 - also serving as an artificial reef
- USS Arizona 13 - seen from the USS Missouri