Few moments in history have had more of an impact on the world than the day in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor Hawai’i. Being a professional photographer and writer, it was exciting to see Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial again some 20 years after the first time I visited.
Having lived on Maui for over 20 years, Oahu always seemed like the big city rat race to us “neighbor island” residents. Even though I now live on the mainland (Bend Oregon), I return to Maui yearly to shoot and film for my long time clients.
This year (2018) was especially fun because a new client was starting a tour business on Oahu and needed photography and video. The company would be doing private tours around the island with Pearl Harbor being its main focus, so my webmaster buddy and I flew over from Maui to create travel content (photo and video journalism) for the website and it’s advertising.
We arrived at the entrance of the Pearl Harbor complex in the afternoon loaded with camera gear and ready to see and capture all we could. It was a slow day due to a January government shutdown and although parking was easy to find, it still seemed like there were plenty of visitors strolling about. Our tickets and media passes were all set up by Pearl Harbor Tours and we breezed right through and headed over to the theater. This is where the USS Arizona Memorial tour begins. You watch a short movie, then board a shuttle boat for a quick ride to the bright white memorial building suspended over the hull of the sunken battleship.
I remembered the movie from years ago. It has actual footage of the attack and great narration by an on screen park ranger. I really gave me the feeling of how devastating the attack was and in the end I was amazed at what that generation had accomplished during a long, brutal world war. During the boat ride I noticed how vast Pearl Harbor is. It’s channels, called lochs, stretch far and wide to some unseen distance and Ford Island is a sizable chunk of real estate. Disembarking at the Arizona Memorial and entering the gleaming white interior deck gave me the feeling of solemn beauty and grace. Looking out at the rusting aft gun turret of the sunken battleship seems surreal knowing there’s nearly 1000 men down there. The massive white marble wall of names at the back of the building is impressive and I saw and felt the gratitude that parents, grandparents and their children had as they scanned the names engraved in marble. Everyone spoke in whispers, if at all.
It also struck me how Americans, at the time, were pretty much a rural people who didn’t venture far from home and how this event would eventually force the exposure of millions of ordinary citizens to almost every corner of the world. Horrific as the war was, it seemed to be a catalyst for America’s now global economy and diverse melting pot of our society today. It could also be said that soon after the wars end, tourism in the islands began its rise to become the economic powerhouse it is today.
Of course as a writer / photographer I have always enjoyed “historical tourism”, that is, learning something about the history of the people and places I visit. Sure, I’m still out shooting the stunning beach sunsets and sunrises, but it’s often the historical plaques and natural history books that hold my interest for months.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was going to Ford Island and boarding the USS Missouri battleship docked a few hundred yards from the Arizona Memorial. To get to it you have to board a bus in the main parking area. The bridge that spans Pearl Harbor is a guarded military installation so no civilian cars can access it – only the bus that runs as a shuttle for visitors. A recorded narration playing during the bus ride explains some interesting facts about Oahu and the Harbor. I found it fascinating to hear about an earthquake 1.5 million years ago that split the island in half and generated a 3000 ft tsunami!
Arriving at the USS Missouri, I’m in awe of the colorful flag-lined entrance leading to what looks like five or six stories high of steel battleship. Walking the gangway leading to the deck, I notice how the view of the bow pointing at the Arizona Memorial and the rest of Pearl Harbor with Honolulu rising in the background is stunning. I can’t help but clog the flow of people boarding as my camera shutter rattles away.
The open forward deck seems small as the two massive gun turrets tower over them. I had fun positioning the 50 caliber machine guns mounted on the railings in the foreground of the mighty turrets and gun barrels. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be onboard when those behemoth guns were fired.
We continue along the deck to the mid ship starboard side (right-hand side facing forward) to see the spot where the Imperial Japanese signed the terms of surrender here some 70+ years ago. This exact ship, also called the Mighty Mo, was anchored in Tokyo Bay in 1945 and photographs of the event are on the ship’s walls along this part of the deck, along with the surrender documents which are also here under a glass display. The Japanese surrender officially ended the war for the US and over 10 million American military personnel headed home. Some 400,000 lives were lost in WWII and I find it interesting that this was the moment at which the country began what would become today’s global economy.
Another interesting part of this tour includes a stop at the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island. You can still see the bullet holes in the windows from the day of the attack. The planes inside are an impressive display of the Air Force’s best from WWII through to today’s fighter jets – and pretty much everything in between.
Returning to the main entrance, we strolled the walkway along the water where there are countless historical plaques and monuments about the attack and the history of the ancient harbor itself. It would take quite a bit of time to read them all, but luckily a photograph can captures a thousand words. I must say, even if you are not a big history buff there is plenty to see and do in an afternoon at Pearl Harbor.
Aloha Nui Loa