Pearl Harbor

Honolulu, Oahu - Hawaii

Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu is a lagoon harbor situated about 10 miles west of Honolulu.  It is the site of the infamous air assault by Japan in 1941, which heralded the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War II. 

In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, the tranquil waters of the harbor were disrupted by war.  Japan believed that the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was the only threat to their ambitions of creating an Empire in Asia, and they set out to neutralize this threat by enforcing a surprise air attack.  The US was unprepared for this attack because the War Department did not believe that Japan would attack.  Poor communication between Hawaii and Washington meant that Japan’s messages threatening war were ignored, and so the surprise attack was successful.  The Japanese initially hit the airfields, followed by dropping numerous bombs on US battleships in the harbor.  In less than two hours, the entire US Pacific Fleet battleship force had been ruined.

Pearl Harbor is a solemn reminder of a tragic day.  It is one of the most significant sites in the history of the United States and a National Historic Landmark.  The area consists of a number of museums and memorials that honor those who served in World War II.

Once known for its wealth of pearl oysters, (hence the name Pearl Harbor), the bay was originally called Wai Nomi (meaning ‘pearl water’) by the Hawaiian people.  During the early 19th century the harbor was not used for large vessels due to its shallow entrance.  Due to its shipping and trading activity in the Pacific, the presence of the US grew in Hawaii, and in the 1820’s American warships frequented Honolulu.  By 1869, Congress had approved funds to deepen and widen the entrance to the harbor to allow more merchant vessels and warships to enter, and by 1899 the US desired to have a permanent presence in the Pacific and thus established a naval base in the harbor.

After the WWII attacks, Pearl Harbor remained an active base.  Today it is still a Naval Harbor as well as the final resting place of the USS Arizona. The USS Arizona is a memorial to the 1,177 young sailors who died during the Japanese sneak attack, serving as a reminder to their commitment and sacrifice.  It is a place where visitors can come and pay their respects.

Visitors can also tour the USS Missouri Battleship, which is famous for her role in bringing WWII to its conclusion, with Japan surrendering on her decks on September 2, 1945.  The USS Bowfin is another feature of the area, and this battleship is known for its nine separate combat patrols in Japanese waters, as well as lifeguard missions.  Visitors may walk through the corridors of this submarine.  The Pacific Aviation Museum preserves the history of this region and is well worth a visit also.  Both the USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Memorial are located on Ford Island, just across from the Visitor Center, and the USS Bowfin is located right near the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center is the first port of call and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, and Pearl Harbor Day (December 7).  Tickets for all four attractions can be obtained from here.   The Visitor Center is accessible by city bus #20 or #42 from Waikiki. Tickets for the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri can be purchased in advance online.  Admission to USS Arizona Memorial is free.  A 23-minute video is shown before you take a short boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial. The entire experience is about 75 minutes. You can only get the free tickets at the visitor center.  It is best to arrive early, as time-stamped tickets are available on a first-come, first served basis.  There is a self-guided audio tour available for $7.50 (phone 1-877-444-6777 to reserve).  There may be as much as a two-hour wait for the USS Arizona Memorial on a busy day, as this is the most visited destination on Oahu.  You can visit the other historic sites while you wait for your tour to begin.

The Pacific Aviation Museum and USS Missouri are accessible via shuttle buses that depart from the Visitor Center every 15 minutes from 8am-5pm.  Both sites require between 1-2 hours to fully explore.  Allow up to 8 hours, or the entire day if you can, to see all of the sites that Pearl Harbor has to offer. For security reasons, purses or bags of any sort are not allowed on the boat - so leave them behind.  For a $3 fee baggage may be stored at USS Bowfin Park.  Parking at the Visitor Center is free.  

Phone: (808) 954-8777.

Directions from Waikiki: Take H1 west bound. After Likelike highway get in the right lane and stay on H1. Follow the signs to Pearl Harbor.

Hawaii Guide's Recommended Pearl Harbor Tours:

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Article Edited/Contributed by: Victoria Derrick

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