HONOLULU, December 6, 2012 — One of Hawaii’s most solemn traditions is the commemoration of the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor every December 7th. Survivors from both sides of the Pacific War still come to the island of Oahu every year for the anniversary of the attack. They tour Pearl Harbor’s historical sites and remember the fallen from that Day of Infamy. Not surprisingly, the USS Arizona Memorial is one of the most highly visited tourist locations in Hawaii throughout the year, but especially on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
I first visited the Arizona Memorial as a young boy of five years old on December 7, 1984. Since then I have made it a point every year to make a personal historical pilgrimage to both the Memorial and to the surrounding sites to connect with the memories of the past and to understand better our present day world. As a political scientist, I especially like to visit these locations and others because they remind me that history is often the product of some policymaker’s idea, and those ideas often carry with them a tragic human cost.
If you visit Pearl Harbor today, the National Park Service has a brand new visitor complex which includes a large museum of artifacts and exhibits from both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War. One can touch the refurbished radar scope which first detected Japanese planes, see firsthand the notes FDR used to give his “Day of Infamy” address to Congress, and even meet with Pearl Harbor survivors who are more than willing to answer questions and share testimonies with people young and old alike.
Free tours all throughout the day shuttle visitors by boat to the Arizona Memorial, where one to this day can still see oil bubbling up from the sunken, coral encrusted ship’s bunker tanks – a phenomena which some superstitious survivors believe will only stop when the last sailor from the attack finally passes away. If you’re current or retired military, there is also a special tour provided exclusively by the U.S. Pacific Fleet: Distinguished visitors can get a personalized tour around Pearl Harbor and Ford Island.
For an even more complete experience, you can also visit the Battleship Missouri and Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, both of which take visitors beyond the day of the attack and allow them to see refurbished exhibits from the war. Wherever you go on these tours, it is a deeply spiritual experience to walk in places where men lived and died and to lay hands on a piece of history. It is not uncommon on these tours to overhear a survivor’s testimony or read an exhibit’s citation and be moved to tears by the revelation one gets of the courage, sacrifice and honor that transpired not only on December 7th, but throughout the entire Pacific War.
If you are able to make it to Hawaii this weekend, I highly recommend taking the time to visit Oahu’s historical WWII sites. For more information, you can visit the National Park Service’s World War II Valor In The Pacific website as well as the Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pacific Aviation Museum websites.
Danny de Gracia is a political scientist who lives in Hawaii. Learn more and follow Danny on his official blog!
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