Before there was Ground Zero in New York City, there was Pearl Harbor, the site of one of the most bloody and unimaginable attacks the U.S. had ever faced in the modern era. When the Japanese bombed the harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded and eight mighty battleships of the U.S. Navy were either damaged or destroyed completely. That day of infamy led to a rude awakening of the American government, its armed forces and its people, hurtling the nation into a war which it had desperately tried to avoid joining.
Today, Pearl Harbor is one of the most venerated sites in the United States. Ordinary Americans, history buffs, foreign tourists and veterans alike make regular pilgrimages to the USS Arizona Memorial every year, making it one of the top three most visited tourist attractions in the state of Hawaii.
On December 5, 2008, under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, President George Bush issued an executive order establishing the “World War II Valor in the Pacific Monument,” which added nine historic sites to the United States’ national heritage of monuments. Of these nine sites, six of them are located at Pearl Harbor: the USS Arizona Memorial and Visitor Center; the USS Utah Memorial; the USS Oklahoma Memorial; Six Chief Petty Officer Bungalows on Ford Island; and Mooring Quays F6, F7, and F8, which formed part of Battleship Row.
The National Park Service administers the Pacific National Monument, although the actual wrecks of the USS Arizona, USS Utah and USS Oklahoma are still under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy.
The USS Arizona Memorial, which was established in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower due to popular demand, offers a wide range of free amenities to visitors, seven days a week, excluding three national holidays. Visitors can meet Pearl Harbor survivors, watch a documentary film about the attack, walk the grounds of the memorial park and view the interpretive exhibits, purchase books and tapes about the war in the Pacific theater and take a Navy shuttle boat out to explore the Arizona Memorial itself.
The park service’s mission in managing the USS Arizona Memorial is to preserve and interpret historical documents, memories and attitudes associated with the attack on Pearl Harbor. 1.5 million visitors come to the memorial every year, ensuring that the memories of the men who lost their lives, of the heroes who died while defending the nation against attack will never be forgotten.
At the 66th anniversary celebration of the Pearl Harbor attack, retired Navy Commander Tucker McHugh suggested that the memorial was crucial not only in honoring the dead soldiers of Pearl Harbor, but also in offering support to the survivors who live on today. In McHugh’s words: “I think there’s been a void in the minds and hearts of these shipmates that their shipmates were never honored with a lasting memorial. Total closure might come when the last survivor passes away and they’re all reunited together.”