Dec. 7, 1941—a day that will live in infamy. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the most devastating attacks in history. Out of the 96 ships in the harbor that day, 18 were sunk or heavily damaged. Casualties totaled 2,403 dead, 1,178 wounded. Nearly half the fatalities were aboard the USS Arizona, the sunken battleship that today memorializes the “day of infamy,” as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, the day America entered World War II.
The idea to create a memorial out of Arizona’s sunken remains, with 1,102 victims trapped in the underwater tomb, did not come about till 1950, when Adm. Arthur W. Radford, then commander-in-chief of the Pacific, dedicated a memorial plaque and flag platform. The modest memorial was erected on a platform above the hull that lay 38 feet below the water’s surface. Eight years later, Congress authorized the USS Arizona Memorial as a national shrine with a memorial building befitting its historical significance.
The initial fundraising campaign fell disappointingly short of its target, but newspaper accounts attracted the attention of Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s famous manager. Then at the height of his fame, Presley performed in a benefit in 1961, which sold out, raising $52,000 for the memorial. More important, it caught the public’s attention and led to the necessary state and federal appropriations for the project’s completion. One year later, the memorial was dedicated before 1,500 guests, including several survivors of the attack.
Today, visitors to Pearl Harbor have a wonderful variety of sites they can explore to discover the fascinating part Hawaii played in the outset of World War II. In addition to a stop at the USS Arizona Memorial, save time to visit the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, USS Battleship Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, which has two World War II battlefield hangars featuring a special Pan Am exhibit and 50 historic aircraft. The three historic destinations at Pearl Harbor are among the most popular visitor attractions in the Islands. Learn more about Pearl Harbor and about the unique contribution of Japanese-Americans to winning the war.
Photos by Shutterstock; Brett Uprichard