USS Arizona: Stop and Remember

A rainbow appears to end on the deck of the USS Missouri, near the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

A rainbow appears to end on the deck of the USS Missouri, near the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The tree of life sculpture on the mainland. A similar sculpture is part of the Arizona Memorial.

The tree of life sculpture on the mainland. A similar sculpture is part of the Arizona Memorial.

I sat next to a Japanese family on the boat that shuttles tourists to the USS Arizona Memorial. I paused in silence before the names of all the lives lost on that “day that will live in infamy.” And again, beside me was a Japanese tourist. It was already a profound moment as we honored the 1,177 men entombed in the  waters below.  Both of our nations shared that historic day — from vastly different perspectives, of course. But now, more than a half century later, we were here together to pay tribute to the dead, to the heroic, to the memory of a war we simply can’t forget. And with me clutching my brochure in English and my fellow tourists reading theirs in Japanese, we shared these few moments in silence (and in a drenching downpour.)

Before taking the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, plan to spend plenty of time in the museums at the park. The photos, artifacts and graphics present a vivid portrait of that awful day.

Before taking the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, plan to spend plenty of time in the museums at the park. Photos, artifacts and graphics present a vivid portrait of that awful day.

I’ve visited plenty of war memorials — Gettysburg and Antietam, Valley Forge and the Vietnam Memorial. I’ve seen World War I tributes in Great Britain and Boonsboro, Md. I stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va.

But this one is different. The curved white memorial building seems to float above the battleship still lying under the waters of Pearl Harbor. Oil from the ship continues to create a rainbow sheen on the waters, a reminder that the ship that sank here has not been disturbed since that December day. The crew who served on her are still here, too, and this is their tomb.

This display recalls Sadako and all the origami cranes she folded.

This display recalls Sadako, who survived Hiroshima, and the 1,300 cranes she folded before her death in 1955.

Going to Oahu meant a stop in Pearl Harbor. I couldn’t stay away. I’d been here once before with our children.This time I was here with my husband. Far from the mai tais and the surfboards of Waikiki, the beaches of the North Shore and Kailua, this place is somber but beautiful, too. I couldn’t help remembering that this was probably paradise for the young men serving here that December morning. They, too, had been planning trips to the beach or one of Oahu’s other scenic spots.

Sadako's cranes remind us of the victims of the end of World War II.

Sadako’s cranes remind us of the victims of the end of World War II.

Pearl Harbor shouldn’t be missed. The museum tells the story of the attacks vividly with eyewitness accounts from sailors, nurses and townspeople. A picture of Sadako and the colorful cranes she folded are a reminder of another brutal day in World War II, the bombing of Hiroshima. I was surprised, but moved, when I saw the bits of folded paper and read the child’s story.

Some practical advice….

DSCN3108Get your tickets on line before you arrive in Hawaii. If you can’t, don’t worry. I panicked when I saw tickets online were sold out. They save 2,000 for walk-in visitors. Just plan to arrive early (the park opens at 7 a.m.). Tickets have timed entry for the film and shuttle to the memorial.

The audio tour enhances the visit to the museum and the sites around the park. I turned it off on the memorial itself. My own thoughts were enough.

Leave your bags at your  hotel. You can’t take the in the park. Where shoes for climbing in and out of a boat. Bring your camera.

This is a surprisingly big park. Make sure to leave enough time to see the museum and walk the grounds before you line up to see the film and visit the memorial. We spent a couple of hours walking around the park and visiting the museum. The film and visit to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial takes a little more than an hour  — and it goes by fast. You might want to visit the other museums and memorials nearby as well.

It’s a beautiful place. A sad place. Inspiring, too.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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