It was our first day in Hawaii. We had to fight through our jet lag and be up and ready to leave the hotel to begin sightseeing by 8am. We made our way to the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. However in my humble opinion, you should ideally aim to be at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites by 7:30am in order to secure tickets to all the exhibits. The Pearl Harbor Historic Sites opens at 7am and closes at 5pm. If you can get there by 7am that’s even better, as it allows a little bit of extra time to really enjoy the memorial sites. There are a total of 4 memorial sites – USS Bowfin, WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument (USS Arizona), USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum. Apart from this there is also a road to war museum that you may wish to spend some time at. This museum has artifacts dating from almost 200 years ago. There are a couple of things that you should know before you make your way there. The first is, you cannot carry a bag that is bigger than the size of your hand. They have locker storage facilities on site, but in my opinion if you don’t need access to your bag for the entire day, because visiting all the sites will take you an entire day, don’t worry about carrying your bag with you. The second is as the sites are not all in the same place, you need to use the shuttle service provided by the Pearl Harbor Sites to commute between the sites.
We got to the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites around 8:30am as we drove from Waikiki to the base, roughly a 30-minute drive. Additionally the traffic in Hawaii can build up fast. But long story short, we missed out on tickets to see the USS Arizona Memorial. This particular exhibit does group entries and each group is limited to certain number of people and we’d just missed out on the last set of tickets. It can be disappointing when you’re on holiday and you miss out on seeing things that are on your bucketlist. In addition the entry to the USS Arizona Memorial is timed. In case you know you won’t be able to make it in time to purchase all the tickets, you can purchase tickets to the USS Arizona memorial online. You can get more information on purchasing tickets online for the USS Arizona Memorial here.
Once you’ve purchased the tickets, it is really up to you in terms of how you want to navigate through all the memorial sites. You have to be at the USS Arizona memorial 10 minutes prior to the time you’ve purchased your tickets for but apart from that you’re free to explore as per your wish. The sites that aren’t at the main park, can only be accessed by the shuttle service they provide or if you have an active military ID.
We started the tour with the USS Bowfin submarine, which is located at the Pearl Harbor Park from where you purchase your tickets. As part of your tour you get an audio guide just before entering the submarine. The experience of walking through the submarine and learning about all the different parts of the submarine and gaining an insight into how the sailors lived whilst they were on board, really hit me hard. Firstly, during the World War, there was no question about whether you’d enlist in the services, your country needed you and as a young man it was your duty to serve your country. Needless to say the submarine had housed more sailors than it was initially built for. It is here, that I learnt of the term hot bedding. What is hot bedding? When she was sailing, due to the lack of beds, sailors would take turns to get some shuteye. In short one sailor would sleep whilst the other sailor kept watch or did what he was tasked to do. Once the sailor who was resting has had his time, he would get up and get on with keeping watch and empty his spot on the bed for the next sailor to get some shuteye. Furthermore, there were beds even by the torpedoes. In this day and age, for the comfort of tourists, the Parks have maintained the submarine and have added small fans to have some sort of ventilation. Even with those, it was rather uncomfortable to walkthrough in the heat of the submarine. Can you possibly imagine how it was when the USS Bowfin was sailing? In fact, if the submarine had been invaded, one of the ways to find a sailor was through their sweat trails, created by the heat inside the submarine. It takes a good hour to an hour and a half to walkthrough the submarine and digest all the information that the audio guide is narrating to you. Just a note, if you are claustrophobic or suffer anxiety from tight spaces, please go prepared. As this is located in the same vicinity as the ticket counter you may wish to visit this memorial first. There’s also a gift shop and the road to war museum located in this vicinity.
The next memorial site that we visited was the USS Missouri also known as “The Mighty Mo”, battleship. This battleship is of great significance in the history of the World War II. It was on this ship that the Japanese had surrendered thus bringing the World War II to an end. She sailed international waters serving America in a total of three wars. This was again a vessel that housed many more sailors than it was built for. But given that this was a battleship and not a submarine, there was more room to house the extra sailors. The USS Missouri is actually docked in an active naval base (although all of Pearl Harbor is still an active facility), therefore please keep an eye out for restrictions on photos and videos. Hot bedding still existed on board this battleship, however not to the extent that it did on the USS Bowfin. Again, this memorial site offers both an audio guide narrated tour or you can sign up for a guided group tour. Whilst there weren’t any new terms that I learnt when walking through this Battleship, as I’d already learnt a few on the USS Bowfin, it was a magnificent experience getting to experience such an intense time in history.
Last, but not the least, the Pacific Aviation Museum. This exhibit takes you through all the warplanes of the WWII. It occupies two WWII hangars. The first, hangar 37, which is the first section of the museum, still shows damage from the attacks on December 7, 1941. This section features most of the static exhibits. It takes a shorter time to go through this museum. Your tour begins firstly with a 12-minute film that details the events of December 7, 1941. After this presentation the visitors are ushered into the exhibit space of the museum where you get to come face to face with actual WWII planes. The second hangar, hangar 79 is a continuation, of the displays of these aircrafts. It also showcases some of the newest additions to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
All in all, the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites, is one experience that I will cherish forever. I love going to places and exploring cities that have great historical significance. If you follow my YouTube channel (link to channel), you’ll know that I’ve previously done a detailed historic documentary, titled ‘The Golden Triangle’ (link to blog). I am now announcing that I’m going to work on my second historic documentary, which will be titled ‘December 7, 1941’. Whilst this documentary poses a lot of challenges such as shortage of footage, and trying to squeeze details relating to all three sites in the one documentary, I would still like to explore the possibility of doing so. Therefore I ask you, that if you know of historians (history enthusiasts) who aren’t afraid of being in front of the camera, and/or are happy to assist me with information, please get me in touch with them. You can contact me via the Home page (link to page) of my website, or reach out to me on my various social media platforms. If you aren’t familiar with my first documentary, you can watch it below.
Until next time,