On 7 December 1941, Japan launched an unprovoked aerial attack on the American naval base Pearl Harbor on Ford Island in Oahu, Hawaii.
Japan hoped to deter the United States from interfering with their plans for imperial expansion in Asia. Over 2,400 Americans were killed, including civilians, and another 1,000 were injured. Over 300 aircraft and almost 20 naval vessels including 8 battleships were damaged or destroyed.
The USA declared war on Japan the following day and significantly assisted the Allied war effort.
To commemorate and inform about this devastating, seminal moment in US history, many memorials and museums have been built on Ford Island. Here are 9 you can visit today.
When Japanese fighter pilots struck the USS Arizona with four armour-piercing bombs, 1,177 crewmen lost their lives – almost half the United States’ total casualties suffered at Pearl Harbor. Having been fully refuelled just one day earlier, the Arizona was damaged too severely to save. While its armament was recovered and reused, the ship’s hull remains where it sank.
In 1962, a memorial was built, straddling the hull without touching it. Tickets for the US Navy-operated shuttle boats to the monument generally sell out around midday such is the site’s popularity. The USS Arizona is overseen by the National Parks Service as part of the wider Pearl Harbor National Memorial area.
2. Virtual Reality Centre, Pearl Harbor
Inside the Visitors Centre at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum, a newly installed virtual reality exhibit presents a 360-degree view of the USS Arizona and the seven other battleships that formed Battleship Row, one of the main targets for Japanese bombers.
Visitors are digitally transported to the Arizona’s main deck and crow’s nest. Animated visuals show visitors exactly how the attack occurred, detailing the bombing raids with impressive accuracy. Finally, a virtual look at the USS Arizona Memorial in its current state is also offered.
The USS Missouri – or ‘Mighty Mo’ as it’s also known – was the last American battleship ever built and the last to be decommissioned. It was aboard the Missouri that Japanese troops surrendered, bringing World War Two to an end.
The main tour will take you to the exact spot where the surrender occurred. The battleship was also used in the Korean War and during the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm. Side by side with the destroyed USS Arizona – the symbol of USA’s initial involvement in World War Two – the Missouri connotes the end of the war and a return to peace.
4. USS Oklahoma Memorial
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the USS Oklahoma was docked in one of the outward sections of Battleship Row, making it a prime target. Struck by five torpedoes, the Oklahoma capsized leading to the loss of 429 lives.
A memorial consisting of engraved black granite walls and white marble posts was unveiled on 7 December 2007, the 66th anniversary of the attack. The memorial is situated beside the USS Missouri Memorial which resides in the same place the Oklahoma was sunk.
5. USS Utah Memorial
The USS Utah was one of the first vessels attacked by Japanese Nakajima B5N bombers on 7 December. Despite having once been a battleship, the Utah had been demilitarised by 1941 and was more useful for training purposes. Nonetheless, mistaking large boxes for turrets, bombers fired six torpedoes at Utah, causing the ship to sink rapidly. 58 officers were killed, however 461 others survived. Like the USS Arizona, retrieval of the Utah proved impossible, and it remains where it ended up on 7 December 1941.
Nowadays, a 70-foot concrete walkway stretches out from Ford Island to a platform in front of the ship where a brass plaque and flagpole commemorate the ship and its victims.
6. Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum
Across the harbour from the USS Missouri Memorial sits the modified USS Bowfin, the centrepiece of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum. Launched on the one-year anniversary of the attack, it holds a special place in American history. The Bowfin’s nickname, ‘The Pearl Harbor Avenger’, echoes national feelings of strength and resolve at the USA’s post-Pearl Harbor recovery.
The museum seeks to inform about the entire history of the United States Submarine Service. It also contains a memorial honouring the more than 3,000 submariners who died aboard 52 submarines during World War Two.
Opened on the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum was developed inside two historic World War Two hangars and the control tower from which the first radio alert of the attack was given.
Exhibits include restored aircraft that originally helped defend the base during the Japanese bombing raids. Hangar 37 hosts a 200-seat theatre while the adjoined Hangar 79 contains over 50 aircraft. The blue glass windows of Hangar 79 still bear many bullet holes from Japanese artillery fire.
8. Pearl Harbor Visitor Centre
In the Visitor Centre, three exhibits tell the story of Pearl Harbor by exploring Hawaiian and wider American experiences before, during and after the attack. Using historic news footage, photographs and artefacts, the Road to War exhibit examines pre-war America while the Oahu 1941 exhibit presents a view of Hawaiian life through the testimony of Oahu residents.
Through the use of artefacts such as the only World War Two era Japanese torpedo recovered, along with oral histories, the Attack and Aftermath exhibit explains how the attack drew the United States into a global conflict.
9. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
A common final spot for trips to Pearl Harbor is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater. Here, tens of thousands of US service personnel from World War Two, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are laid to rest.
Unknown victims of the Pearl Harbor attack were interred with generic markers which were updated as more information was discovered about them, such as the 70 men identified as having died aboard USS Arizona. The graveyard is also known as Punchbowl Cemetery and more colloquially as ‘Arlington of the Pacific’ in reference the United States’ main military cemetery in Virginia.