There are actually three different sites to go to see parts of Pearl Harbor’s WWII history. On Ford Island you can see “The Mighty Mo,” otherwise known as the USS Missouri. It;s not a museum dedicated to the life of the ship, including its time in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.
The tour of The Mighty Mo is long. I recommend comfortable shoes and eating beforehand. It’s a big ship, and even though they don’t let you look at all of it, there are many things to see.
The Mighty Mo wasn’t just at Pearl Harbor in December 7th, 1941. The ship went all over the world until it was decommissioned in March of 1992. In fact, the ship participated in WWII, The Korean War, and The Gulf War. It features some of the biggest guns every put on a ship, and after it’s upgrade in 1986, it had some of the most modern equipment in the fleet for a while.
Of course, looking at the ship now, that “modern” equipment is laughable. What was modern in 1986 belongs in a museum in 2021. So, I guess it’s very appropriate that after The Mighty Mo was decommissioned, it became a museum.
The tickets were $29.99 each for adults, which feels a little steep. You can buy a package Pearl Harbor deal for $79.99, but we didn’t because we got tickets to the Arizona for free, and only two of us wanted to go on the USS Bowfin and see the aviation museum.
After touring the USS Missouri on Ford Island, you can go over to the main Pearl Harbor Memorial park, which is right across the bridge and to the right off the Kamehameha.
Once you enter the park, there are statues and memorials throughout to look at. On the far right is the USS Bowfin (a decommissioned submarine) and on the far left is the waiting area to take a ferry to the USS Arizona. It’s best if you reserve tickets for the ferry in advance, but the tour operators buy them up so fast that we couldn’t get any. We would have had to wait in a very long line, but thankfully, someone had extra tickets and gave them to us.
When you go to the memorial, all active duty soldiers should remember that you are required to wear your dress uniform. This is to show respect for the men who died in Pearl Harbor.
Although the Pearl Harbor Memorial Park is operated by the National Park Service, the ferry to the USS Arizona is operated by the US Navy. Therefore, when you get on the ferry, you’ll see actual sailors manning the ship.
On the ferry over and in the memorial itself, it is asked that you maintain silence or whisper quietly. The folks who operate these memorials take their jobs very seriously, and they don’t like anyone to disturb the quiet and somber atmosphere. Therefore, you may not want to go with children unless they are very well-behaved.
The USS Arizona is still underwater where is sank in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The memorial is on top of the ship, so that when you stand at the windows you can look down and see the wreckage.
The memorial is beautiful, with arched ceilings and decorative windows. But, it’s a sad place. Unlike The Mighty Mo who survived the attack, the USS Arizona was lost with nearly all hands.
The memorial is small. There’s the main area with windows that look out of the sunken ship, and then a small alcove in the back with a wall of the names of those who died. It’s a big wall, and there are a lot of names on it.
I do recommend doing a Pearl Harbor tour. But, there’s a reason it took us two years in Hawaii to get around to it. Rich is a sailor, and that doesn’t make it easy for either of us to walk around these memorials devoted to dead sailors.
I mean, you know when you enlist that there is a chance. It’s just that facing that so directly is heart-wrenching.
The main things to see are the USS Missouri on Ford Island, the USS Arizona memorial, and the USS Bowfin and Aviation Museum.
However, there’s a bonus that not a lot of people know about.
I’m mentioning it last because the tour buses don’t go there. You can take a shuttle from the Pearl Harbor Memorial Park to the USS Missouri, but it will only bring you back to the park after. However, if you have a military ID, you can drive yourself over to see The Mighty Mo, and then pop over to the airplane graveyard. It’s right behind the cafe, and if you ask the guard they can direct you.
There’s a small tent with a little museum inside that talks about these old planes and what they were like. Flight technology advanced very quickly through the 20th century. These early examples are so scary up close. They feel like they’re made out of little more than a few sheets of tin foil!
When you think about the people who flew in them, you really have to marvel at their courage. I’ve been in a few small planes and in two helicopters, so I know that not all aircraft even in modern times feel very safe. But, these planes look like death traps.
Everyone should see Pearl Harbor once. It might not be a cheerful place to visit like the rest of Hawaii, but it is an important part of our history.
I don’t want to make any claims about the bombing of Pearl Harbor justifying what the US did to Japan. My grandfather Sigurd Johnson was in the Navy in WWII. When I was a small child, he used to take me to the Japanese Friendship Gardens in San Jose. He’d tell me about what Japan was like after the nuclear bombs, and how there would never be a justification for it. I believed him. He was a good man and he saw it for himself, so I think he would know.
However, the attack on Pearl Harbor was horrible, and seeing the memorial to the people who died there felt important.