7:45 Sunday morning, 7 December 1941: the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour is one of the most significant dates that has changed the course of human history. Coordinated Japanese aerial attacks over the course of seven hours followed on US-held Philippines, Guam, Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Later that day (8 December in Tokyo) Japan announced a declaration of war on the United States and on 8 December, the United States Congress declared war on Japan, thus marking the end of the US policy of isolationism and driving the slumbering giant into World War II that would end with Japan’s surrender after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. On 11 December Germany and Italy each declared war on the United States which responded with a declaration of war against Germany and Italy.
All of the eight (8) United States Navy battleships anchored at Pearl Harbour were damaged, four sanked, and 188 aircrafts destroyed making it the worst naval disaster in American history. The total number of military personnel killed was 2,335 which included 2,008 navy personnel, 109 marines, and 218 army in addition to 68 civilians, making the total 2,403 people dead. 1,177 were from the USS Arizona (1,178 others were wounded).
Once a tranquil oyster farming bay with an extensive shallow embayment called “Wai Momi” (meaning, Waters of the Pearl) by the Hawaiians, Pearl Harbour is a lagoon harbour on the island of Oahu, Hawaii west of Honolulu. It is the official headquarters of the United States Naval Pacific Fleet.
Pearl Harbour is a definite must-see during your visit to Oahu. There is one way, by bus or car, to get there from Waikiki, approximately an hour and 15 minutes (a distance of about 11.5 miles). First, you have to visit the two free museums, the “Road to War” and the “Attack Museum”. It doesn’t matter whether you know your history well because an hour spent at these museums would provide you with detailed information of the events leading up to the attack and its aftermath.
Located across from the exhibit galleries is the Pearl Harbour Memorial Theatre to view a 23-minute documentary film on the 7 December 1941 Japanese sneak attack. Immediately following is the navy shuttle boat trip to the USS Arizona Memorial.
The USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona which was hit 4 times and eventually sank, marks the resting place of 1,102, submerged in less than 40 feet of water, of the 1,177 sailors and marines killed. Twenty-three sets of brothers died aboard the USS Arizona which included a father-and-son pair. Among the the 1,177 crewmen killed were all 21 members of the US Navy Band Unit #22 who were up on the deck preparing to play music for the daily flag raising ceremony.
Designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis, the memorial consists of 3 main parts – entry, assembly room and shrine.
Touring of the memorial is self-guided. The central assembly has seven large open windows on either wall and ceiling to commemorate the date of the attack. The memorial has also an opening in the floor overlooking the sunken decks through which visitors can pay respects by tossing flowers in honour of the fallen sailors or you can place leis on guardrails in front of their names. Leis are no longer allowed to be tossed in the water because the strings from leis pose a hazard to sea life. We experience the memorial as a moving place, one that brings about sudden and great sadness!
Finally after experiencing the memorial itself is a boat ride back to the Pearl Harbour visitor centre.