Inside the Capitol

Monday, May 02, 2005

5-9 Pearl Harbor

MON, 5-9-05

PEARL HARBOR � Few words carry the emotional impact of Pearl Harbor, a day etched in the American psyche.
The World War II memorials at Pearl Harbor are well worth seeing for anyone visiting Hawaii, American or not. Many foreigners, including Japanese, visit the memorials every day.
The USS Arizona Memorial is by far the most popular. It is operated by the U.S. Navy and the National Park Service. Admission is free. The wait is usually more than an hour, but an excellent interpretive center and gift shop can take up much of that time.
A 20-minute documentary film begins the tour. The current version, narrated by Stockard Channing, is an attempt to take an objective look at the event, and seemed to be well received. The group of 200, then boards a Navy shuttle boat for the short ride to the Arizona Memorial.
Have you ever wondered about the shape of the memorial that sags in the middle? According to its architect, it symbolizes initial defeat, followed by ultimate victory.
City buses from downtown Honolulu stop at the memorial. Private tours also include the memorial.
My favorite tours are private boat tours of Pearl Harbor that play tapes of the action that was taking place as the boat circles around Ford Island and views the many other memorials and wrecked hulks of ships that stand as testaments to the devastation of that day. Those tours do not have access to the Arizona Memorial, but do pause alongside the ship for a moment of silence.
Two other memorials now can be visited while at the USS Arizona Visitor Center. The USS Bowfin is a World War II submarine docked next to the Visitor Center. Bus shuttles also run from the Visitor Center to the USS Missouri, docked on Ford Island. Both the Bowfin and the Missouri charge admission. The rather substantial fee goes to the foundations that maintain the memorials.
Both vessels are worth visiting. My primary interest was in seeing the site of the Japanese surrender aboard the Missouri. I was surprised that instead of the ceremony being held on the broad fantail of the ship, it was held on a narrow starboard foredeck.
The story is that Gen. MacArthur, who was in charge, wanted the ceremony to be over and done with as quickly as possible. As one can imagine, the Japanese weren�t going to complain about getting it over quickly. So the ceremony occurred just outside the visiting officer�s quarters.
If it is possible to cram any more into a day, a visit to Punchbowl National Cemetery on the other side of town is also moving. Located in the crater of an extinct volcano, it is a beautiful tribute to the men who died at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere during the war, including New Mexico�s Ernie Pyle.
A word of warning about some of the questionable security measures that have been added since 9-11. Women�s purses and any other bags are not allowed in any of the memorials. It is not that they re searched. They just aren�t allowed. They can be checked at a makeshift tent across the street for $3 an item.
I had worn a pair of cargo pants, stuffed with cameras, recording equipment and cell phone and easily could also have accommodated my wife�s wallet, had I known in advance. As it was, I never was checked but she couldn�t even borrow a credit card to make purchases in the gift shop because they demanded photo identification before allowing a signature on a credit card bill.
I was able to take many pictures of Ford Island and the harbor from the beautiful lawn behind the visitor center. But on the bus shuttle to the Missouri, docked on Ford Island, we were forbidden to take pictures. Aboard the Missouri were pay telescopes through which I could see close-ups of everything that was off-limits from the bridge.
Rest easy. We are being protected.



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