Pearl of wisdom

Missouri' 16-inch big guns
Photos by Marish Mackowiak

Not far from Waikiki's high rises and holidaymakers stands a somber reminder from another age. Marish Mackowiak takes a look at the real Pearl Harbor.

Before hordes of tourists descended on the Aloha state, Hawaii was subject to another invasion from Japan. Today relics from the infamous raid on Pearl Harbor are one of the islands' key sightseeing spots.

The Arizona Memorial
At 7:55 on the morning of Dec 7, 1941, a large group of Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack on the United States' Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor. After just two hours, a group of nine key battleships, parked along "Battleship Row," were all sunk or badly damaged. The largest loss of life was sustained by the USS Arizona - at about 8:10am she was hit by a 792kg bomb that caused her to sink in about nine minutes, together with 1177 of her crew. While other ships destroyed in the attack were salvaged, the Arizona remains in the same place she was sunk, together with many of the crew who died. Today, the Arizona, together with the Memorial built on top of it, is the most significant "attraction" for visitors to Pearl Harbor.

The only way of visiting the Arizona is by taking a free "interpretive tour," which begins in the theater of the Visitor Center. Following the screening of a short documentary, groups are taken aboard a small ferry bound for the Memorial. The Arizona lies in shallow waters in the middle of Battleship Row, just off nearby Ford Island, flanked by piers marking the locations of other ships destroyed in the same attack. Completed in 1961, the Memorial is a 55m-long white modernistic building that appears to hover over the Arizona. As well as its commemorative role, it also functions as an observation platform, allowing a view of the sunken remains from either side and the names of the sailors who went down with it are engraved on a wall at one end.

The Memorial is a bright and airy structure, with a sense of serenity that belies its tragic past. Nevertheless, remembering that many of the men are still entombed in the wreckage encourages considerable reflection. A gun turret on one side still functions as a receptacle for ashes of deceased sailors who served on the Arizona, which continue to be scattered here as these men pass away. Greasy slicks on the water's surface are further reminders that this is no museum prop but a genuine and fragile historical artifact. Several liters of oil a day continue to leak from the hulk.

The Arizona Museum, in the Visitor Center, is a good way to round off your visit. A Japanese Gyo Rai (Thunderfish) torpedo on display was only discovered in 1991, in the same place where the Oklahoma capsized. It was dropped by a plane launched from the carrier Akagi - a model of that ship can also be seen. Originally designed for open waters, the Gyo Rai was modified to be dropped just 10-20m above the water, especially for the Pearl Harbor raid.

The Arizona Memorial, with piers marking the positions of surrounding ships hit at pearl harbor

Bowfin Park
While waiting for your Arizona tour, visit neighboring Bowfin Park. The main attraction is the USS Bowfin, an 8813kg WWII era submarine. A self-guided audio tour starts from the forward torpedo compartment, moves through the officers' quarters, galley, dining area, crew accommodations and finishes in the engine rooms. The surrounding park contains a rather phallic collection of submarine torpedoes and nuclear cruise missiles. Another attraction is a WWII Japanese "Kaiten" suicide torpedo, designed with a 1350kg explosive warhead. The Bowfin Museum is also of interest, tracing the history of submarines from 1776.

Japanese "Gyo Rai" ("Thunderfish") torpedo at the Arizona Memorial museum

Mighty Mo
The most physically imposing exhibit at Pearl Harbor is the 45,000-ton Missouri, known as Mighty Mo. It's moored just a few hundred meters from the Arizona at Ford Island but requires a bus to reach it by road. The Missouri's service history spanned almost 50 years, including action in World War II, the Korean War and Middle East conflicts of the 1990s. It even suffered an unsuccessful kamikaze attack, a slight dent from which is still visible. This was also the ship on which the Japanese surrender was signed, marking the formal conclusion of WWII. A special plaque marks the spot. A refit in the 1980s left it bristling with modern electronically guided weaponry, and it served in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in the early '90s. A fully narrated tour takes in the original teak main deck and the upper decks. An interesting feature is the Tactical Operations room, equipped with everything from a pencil sharpener to a full arsenal of missile control and navigation systems. Parked alongside the Missouri is an Aeronca 65TC, a light plane that inadvertently flew into Japanese forces during the Pearl Harbor attack and was the last civilian aircraft aloft before the attack. It miraculously escaped serious damage. Combined tickets for the Bowfin and Missouri, available at Bowfin Park, cost $18 (self-guided) and $24 (guided).

Some people may think Hawaii is a rather well-trod tourist destination, but there are few places as thought-provoking as Pearl Harbor. Combined with balmy weather, a relaxed attitude and great beaches, there are still plenty of sound reasons to visit the Aloha State.

Getting there
There are no shortage of flights to Honolulu. Residents of Kanagawa or eastern Tokyo will find China Airlines' frequent service from Haneda Airport in Ota ward the most convenient. Once in Hawaii, a local bus is the cheapest way to reach Pearl Harbor. The #42 and #20 run the full length of Waikiki along Kuhio Street, taking about fifty minutes. By car, take the H-1 West and take exit 15A (Arizona Memorial). Call 1-808-422-0561 for more transport information.

Where to stay
An economical hotel package will cost little more than the flight itself. This will invariably find you in Waikiki's dense cluster of high-rise hotels. Backpackers' hostels include the Island Hostel (Tel/fax: 1-808-924-8748), Banana Bungalow Waikiki Beach (Tel: 1-808-924-5074), Hostelling International Waikiki (Tel: 1-808-926-8313) and Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Tel: 1-808-923-9566).

The Arizona Visitor Center is open from 7:30am to 5pm. Call 1-808-422-0561 or 1-808-422-2771

Bowfin Park is open daily from 8am to 5pm. Check out or call 1-808-423-1341


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