Few words could rival “Day of Infamy”, “Pearl Harbor” and “World War II” in evoking the horrors of war. But the experience of walking around a memorial to remember those who perished onboard the USS Arizona approximates that stark yet silent reminder of what wars could leave in their wake.
Through the generosity of the US Embassy in Manila, I went on a trip to Hawaii as a scholar of the Center for Asia-Pacific Exchange (CAPE) for a Conference in August, 2009, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the highlight of my stay being the excursion to Pearl Harbor to pay my respects to the “collateral damage” or human lives lost to the Second World War, along with my newfound Filipino and Korean friends.
History books tell us that the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, was not entirely that, given that American relations with Japan had been steadily souring because of the latter’s expansionist dreams. Japan’s goal was to immobilize the Pacific Fleet so that America could not interfere with its eventual conquest of Asia and neighboring areas. A series of direct hits on Battleship Row, where the USS Arizona, Nevada, Vestal, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Maryland, Tennessee, California, Utah, and Pennsylvania, were parked, may have been cowardly, but it was deathly efficient. A single, direct hit of an 800kg armor-piercing Japanese bomb on USS Arizona alone sank it instantly, killing all 1,177 on board crew of mostly young men.
The rest, of course, is history. It was, nevertheless, a harrowing experience to scan the long list of names, where some of them sound awfully familiar because they belonged to Filipinos, and to be standing still above the watery ground that was their final resting place. To say the experience was moving is to say nothing original—chilling was more like it, even with the hot Honolulu sun bearing down on us.
The memorial itself, a 184-foot-long all-white floating structure is unique, so designed by Architect Alfred Preis to show a sagging middle, for its taking the direct hit, and the ends “vigorous”, a structure that “expresses initial defeat [but] ultimate victory.”
The National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior takes care of the Pearl Harbor historic sites, a must-see when one is in Hawaii. Along Kamehameha Highway, the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is a 45-minute drive via buses #20 and #42 from Waikiki, if you are taking public transport.
Entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center is free of charge and so is the short shuttle ride to the Memorial itself, but the tickets are on a first-come first-served basis. Tickets to the boat ride to Battleship Missouri Memorial, and entrance to the USS Oklahoma Memorial and the Pacific Aviation Museum in Ford Island, which are free of charge as well, are obtained at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. Visitors are discouraged from bringing bags to the sites, or a nominal fee will be charged for safekeeping of belongings in cubbyholes at the Bowfin.