A Reflective Visit to Pearl Harbor National Monument

Memorial Day is more than cookouts, beaches, and the start of summer.  It’s a time to remember those who died while serving in the armed forces.  Pearl Harbor is one of those destinations set aside to preserve and solmenly remember a devasting attack that led to a huge loss of life.  Our family recently visited Pearl Harbor, reflected, and paid our respects to those who fell over 75 years ago.  The visit to Pearl Harbor also raised questions and elicited discussion about war and how history is presented.  Continue reading for more of our family’s experience at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument outside Honolulu, Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and Pacific Historic Parks, photo by Dave Parfitt

We arrived on a glorious May day with crystal clear Hawaiian skies above a deep blue Pacific blue ocean.  Because we made our reservation for the USS Arizona Memorial online 24 hours ahead of time, we headed right to the theater for the 23-minute orientation film.  This movie presented the events that led up to and the attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  After the film, we boarded a U.S. Navy shuttle boat to the USS Arizona Memorial.  Due to recently discovered cracks in the memorial’s supports, we could not land and walk through the memorial.  However, that certainly did not diminish the impact of seeing the final resting place of nearly 1,200 naval crewmen on board the sunken vessel.

USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, photo by Dave Parfitt

Also permanently docked at the Pacific Historic Parks is the USS Bowfin submarine, launched one year to the day after the Pearl Harbor attack – December 7, 1942.  Nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” the sub sank dozens of enemy ships throughout the remainder of the war.  Touring the submarine was a fascinating (and claustrophobic) look into the life of a seaman during the war.

USS Bowfin Submarine

USS Bowfin Submarine at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, photo by Dave Parfitt

During our cruise of the harbor, we also passed the Battleship USS Missouri – where the Japanese Foreign Minister signed the formal declaration of surrender on September 2, 1945 officially ending the second world war.

Battleship USS Missouri

Battleship USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, photo by Dave Parfitt

As I mentioned, the visit to Pearl Harbor was certainly not a cause of celebration, but a somber, reflective visit to the location where many had their lives cut short.  In addition, it was eye-opening to see first-hand the weapons of war that took the lives of so many others.  While the USS Bowfin Submarine took down many enemy ships during the war, it also sank a freighter, the Tsushima Maru, that carried hundreds of school children and nearly 1,500 civilians (including 767 children) died when it sunk.  I point this out to emphasize the complexities of war and the victims on both sides, soldiers and civilians.

Pearl Harbor

Tree of Life at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, photo by Dave Parfitt

As we toured Pearl Harbor National Monument, we came across a sculpture named “The Tree of Life.”  It’s a free-standing exhibit also incorporated as a part of the USS Arizona Memorial.  The Tree of Life was created by Austrian born architect Alfred Preis who designed the USS Arizona Memorial.  Preis lived in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and was imprisoned for three-months in an internment camp after December 7, 1941.  Preis added the Tree of Life to the memorial as a symbol of renewal after a time of great conflict.  This is the symbol I chose to take away from Pearl Harbor, a site that elicited quiet contemplation, deep thought, and vigorous debate in our family – probably just the necessary purpose of National Park Memorials like this.

DISCLOSURE: Our family was hosted by the Pacific Historic Parks for this visit to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  While admission to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, museums, and access to the USS Arizona are free, we received complimentary narrated audio tours and admission to the USS Bowfin submarine. However, all opinions are those of the author. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.