Hawaii’s war memorials serve as lasting tributes to those who lost their lives in service to their country.
Recently, I was privileged to travel to Hawaii, where two of the United States’ best-known World War II shrines are located, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Both are located within easy driving distance of bustling downtown Honolulu.
The USS Arizona Memorial is an enclosed bridge that spans the sunken battleship. The center of the structure sags, representing initial defeat, but the ends rise triumphantly, symbolic of the ultimate victory. The memorial consists of a museum displaying flags of the states that had battleships present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as well as an assembly area and a shrine room featuring a marble wall where the names of the 1,177 Arizona crewmen killed in the attack are inscribed. Interestingly, the largest floral tributes present at the memorial the day I was there came from prefectures in Japan.
Visitors reach the memorial aboard small launches that ferry them the short distance from the shore to Battleship Row. The sight of the giant battleship Arizona lying in its watery grave is truly moving. I had heard that fuel oil still seeps from the hulk after being trapped inside for nearly 60 years. Sure enough, as I watched, several drops of oil rose to the surface, spread in fleeting rainbows and then disappeared.
The visitors center offers an excellent view of Ford Island and Battleship Row. The battleship USS Missouri, on whose deck the war ended in 1945, is moored a short distance from Arizona and is now a floating museum. The World War II submarine USS Bowfin, another museum, and a submarine memorial are nearby as well.
Also known as Punchbowl Cemetery, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is located in the crater of a 75,000-year-old extinct volcano. Its Hawaiian name, Puowaina, means “Hill of Sacrifice” or “Consecrated Hill.” More than 18,000 casualties of war are interred there, including numerous Medal of Honor recipients and beloved war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who lost his life aboard the space shuttle Challenger, also rests there. The 112-acre cemetery was dedicated in 1949, and in May 1966 a memorial was also dedicated to servicemen who died in the Pacific during World War II and in the Korean War. The memorial consists of a 30-foot sculptured figure of Columbia holding a laurel branch and standing on the prow of an aircraft carrier.
The memorial also includes a gallery of mosaic murals depicting the campaigns in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War, a chapel and a carillon. On either side of the stairway leading to the memorial, pylons in the Garden of the Missing list the names of American servicemen from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, “whose earthly resting place is known only to God.” Punchbowl Cemetery is a place of quiet dignity and a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives in service to their country.
I would like to extend my thanks to New Orleans-based American Hawaii Cruises, which arranged my trip to these historic sites and for years has provided an outstanding way to visit the islands aboard the cruise ship SS Independence.
Michael E. Haskew, Editor, World War II