Highlights, reflections, and practical advice about visiting the USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
If you only have time to see one thing at Pearl Harbor, we encourage you to take a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial.
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Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial is part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial (previously, the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument), which consists of nine historic locations in three of the westernmost United States: California, Alaska, and Hawaii. Five of the nine are located within Pearl Harbor itself: the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the USS Utah Memorial, and parts of Ford Island and Battleship Row.
Before taking our scheduled tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, Mr. B and I took some time to walk around the monument, which includes a number of interconnected sites.
This view of the Battleship Missouri and the Arizona Memorial was taken from just beyond Remembrance Circle, out across Pearl Harbor.
The Last Survivors
If you are lucky, you may have the honor of meeting one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors. This is me with Sterling Cale.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Sterling was just finishing up a night shift at the Navy dispensary, where he worked as pharmacist's mate. His story of the Pearl Harbor attack is harrowing: he was right there in the water when the USS Arizona blew up.
We found Mr Cale to be kind and affable, and eager to share his story so the lessons of history are remembered long after he is gone.
UPDATE: In November of 2022, Sterling Cale celebrated his 101st birthday, and spent his morning at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial meeting with guests and signing copies of his autobiography.
The Remembrance Circle is one of the most moving exhibits on the grounds. It lists every sailor, marine, soldier and citizen known to have died on Oahu on December 7, 1941, besides those listed on the USS Arizona Memorial itself.
In the center of the circle stands a pedestal with a topographical map of Oahu. Markers on the map indicate various locations around the island that were struck during the December 7th attack.
Beyond the map, a semi-circle of blue plaques face toward the USS Arizona Memorial. Each one lists the names of the 2,403 Americans who were killed that day.
As I read through the list of civilians who died, I found myself thinking of all the living that was lost: the girls James never got to kiss...the sunlight that never fell again on Alice's face... the young mother who never got to hear little Eunice tell her she was the best mommy in the world. It broke my heart.
Exhibit Halls: Road to War & Attack!
There are two exhibit halls to explore when you visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial: Road to War and Attack! Both are filled with artifacts, dioramas, and detailed information that offer insight into the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath.
Mr B and I were grateful we took the time to go through the exhibits: they greatly helped expand our understanding of the events before, during, and after the War.
USS Arizona Memorial Tour
The tour of the USS Arizona Memorial includes a compelling 23-minute film on the history of the politics, the people, and the attack on Oahu. After viewing the film, we boarded a US Navy operated boat for a short ride to the USS Arizona Memorial.
The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces. This loss of life represents over half of the Americans killed during the worst naval disaster in American History.
Some 500,000 gallons of oil continue to slowly seep out of the ship’s submerged wreckage, more than 80 years after the attack.
The Shrine Room at the Arizona Memorial was quiet, and a palpable reverence hangs in air. People in our group were contemplative, and like many who tour the USS Arizona Memorial, our experience was reflective and somber.
Dear Lord, Lest I continue My complacent way, Help me to remember that somewhere, Somehow out there A man died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must Ask and answer Am I worth dying for? Poem Eleanor Roosevelt kept in her wallet during World War II
Just 355 USS Arizona Memorial crewmen survived the attack. During our tour, we were touched to learn that since 1982, the U.S. Navy has allowed those survivors to be interred in the ship’s wreckage upon their deaths. Following a full military funeral at the Arizona memorial, the cremated remains are placed in an urn and then deposited by divers beneath one of the Arizona’s gun turrets.
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life, a sculpture designed by architect Alfred Preis, symbolizes rebirth and renewal, and serves as a reminder that we are all interconnected. This piece stands in front of the Road to War Museum and the Attack Museum, near the entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial tour.
The same symbol is found on the side panels of the Shrine Room in the USS Arizona Memorial.
USS Arizona Tour Information
Planning a trip to Oahu? Pearl Harbor should definitely be on your itinerary!
How to Get There
The entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial is located within the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Entrance to the Visitor Center is free and open to the public, but you will need a ticket the 15-minute boat ride out to the USS Arizona. Ticket reservations can be made at Recreation.gov.
USS Arizona Ticket Tips
Tickets for the USS Arizona are free, but limited: the National Park Service strongly recommends that visitors make advanced reservations. Tickets are released in two waves:
- 1st Wave: 8 weeks (56 days) in advance at 3pm HST.
- 2nd Wave: 1 day in advance at 3pm HST.
Plan on arriving at the Visitor Center at least an hour before your designated time. That time denotes when the boat will be leaving: if you miss your reservation, there is no guarantee you will have a spot on the next boat.
A very limited number of standby tickets are made available each day, but the wait time can be 1-3 hours. Arrive before 7 a.m. if you want to try to get a stand-by ticket.
For more information, visit ussarizonamemorial.org; or visit recreation.gov to reserve tour tickets.
Hawaii-inspired Food & Recipes
More Oahu Travel
- USS Battleship Missouri Memorial
- Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
- How to Avoid Sunburn on Your Tropical Vacation
- Embracing Your Inner Tourist (Oahu, Hawaii)
- Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
- Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor
- Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
- Best Oahu Cheap Eats 1
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Bernie Jackson says
More of us should carry that poem in our wallet. This is really powerful, and thank you for conveying the experience so vividly.
Hannah @Sunshine and Spoons says
My dream someday is to go to Hawaii, but not for the beaches. I'm a WWII buff and seeing the Pearl Harbor memorial would mean a lot.
Renée ♥ says
It is so moving when you think of the individual lives - and the generations that followed - that were forever changed by what happened there. You should try to go soon - there are still a few WWII vets who go there every day to talk with visitors and sign their books. They won't be around many more years.
I've been to Pearl Harbor twice, and each time is meaningful and striking, they really did an incredible job communicating the honor and sacrifice and bravery to all generations.
Thanks for sharing your experience, this is a lovely tribute. I don't have a personal connection to Pearl Harbor, and while I expected it to be respectful and well-done when we visited in December, I honestly didn't expect to find myself so moved by the monument. Definitely a must-visit for anyone going to Oahu.
When I finally get to Hawaii (hopefully in the next couple of years), we will definitely be going to the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Your post is a beautiful tribute!
Lila Rose says
This is a wonderful tribute and I am so proud of you for sharing it.
Marlynn [UrbanBlissLife] says
The tree life sculpture is breathtaking. The one place we didn't have time to visit during my visit to Oahu many years ago was Pearl Harbor, but I look forward to visiting someday. Your post is a beautiful tribute to the many men and women who lost their lives there, and those who lived through it. It still does get me how very young they were.
What a great tribute to this incredible memorial. I visited Pearl Harbor when I was in Hawaii 8 years ago. It's very moving. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos. Cheers
Erin @ Platings and Pairings says
Pearl Harbor is such an amazing monument - Very inspiring!
Renée ♥ says
You're so right, Erin. It gives you so much to think about.