Hawaii plays a unique role in our honoring of those who died in the service of their country. It is not only the home of many memorials to those who have died, but it is also the site of one of the single, most tragic losses of life in our military history.
USS Arizona Memorial
Clearly, the most famous war memorial in Hawaii is the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. The Memorial straddles the sunken hull of the battleship USS Arizona and commemorates December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Memorial was dedicated in 1962 and became part of the National Park Service system in 1980. The Memorial marks the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed when the ship was sunk by Japanese bombers. This represents over half of the Americans casualties on that day.
A visit to the USS Arizona Memorial begins at the Visitor's Center where you are assigned to a group for your visit to the Memorial. When your group is called, you first see a very moving film about the precursors to the attack and the attack itself. You then board a navy tender which takes you out to the USS Arizona Memorial. Along the way, a narrative tape which relates what happened on that fateful day is played as you pass the sites of other ships sunk or damaged in the attack. Finally, you arrive at the Memorial.
The Memorial is a very solemn place. The silence is very noticeable. You know you are standing above the burial site of many brave men whose names you see on the wall at the rear of the Memorial. You cannot help but be moved. You look into the water and you can still see fuel leaking from the ship, almost 70 years after the attack. You see buoys in the water marking the front and back of the great ship. You feel saddened yet so very proud of these men who died in the service of their country.
For more information on the USS Arizona Memorial and the attack on Pearl Harbor, please see our feature "Before Your Visit Pearl Harbor."
Battleship Missouri Memorial
The battleship USS Missouri, "Mighty Mo", is also now docked on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor. The Missouri has served her nation proudly in World War II, the Korean Conflict and most recently in the Gulf War.
The Memorial is a not-for-profit venture, which receives no public financing. Despite its location next to the USS Arizona Memorial, Mighty Mo is not part of the U.S. National Park, hence an entry fee is charged to defray operating costs.
There are numerous ticket options available including package tickets which entitle you to visit all three of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites: the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park and the Pacific Aviation Museum. All three are well worth visiting.
Guided tours are available on the Battleship Missouri and we strongly recommend that you take one. They are led by retired military veterans.
How appropriate that these two memorable ships - the one which marked our entry into World War II and the one upon which Japan signed the surrender document - will sit forever together in Pearl Harbor.
For more information check out our feature on the "Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor."
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater
Also on the island of O`ahu you will the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater.
The Hawaiian name for this place is Puowaina, "Hill of Sacrifice". It is believed that in ancient times a heiau existed at this site and that the bodies of kapu breakers were brought to this place. Punchbowl is the bowl-shaped crater of an extinct volcano.
Punchbowl is now the site of the 115 acre National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The remains of the ancient Hawaiians now share the land with the bodies of over 38,000 soldiers, more than half of whom died in the Pacific arena during World War II. The graves are marked by small plaques in the ground marked by the occasional lei of a visiting friend or relative.
This is a truly beautiful and moving place. There is a huge memorial featuring eight marble courts which contain the names of 26,280 Americans missing in action from World War II and the Korean War. Two additional areas now list the names of 2503 soldiers missing from the Vietnam War.
At the top of the long flight of steps sits the monument itself, built in 1966. At the top of the marble staircase stands the statue of a woman, a woman of peace and of liberty towering above you.
Extending from each side of this statue are walls etched with maps of the many campaigns of the Pacific, Pearl Harbor, Wake, Coral Sea, Midway, New Guinea and the Solomons, Iwo Jima, the Gilbert Islands, Okinawa as well as Korea. At the center behind the statute is an interdenominational chapel for Christians, Jews and Buddhists alike. This ground is sacred to both the native Hawaiians and to the families of the non-Hawaiians buried here.
For more information, see our extensive "National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Photo Gallery."
Hale'iwa War Memorial
While the memorials at Pearl Harbor and at Punchbowl may be the most well-known memorials on O`ahu, there are others less well known yet just as important in our remembrance of those who died for our liberty. The Korean War and Vietnam Memorials, located on the grounds of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu honor those men of Hawaii who died in the Korean Conflict and those men of Hawaii who died fighting in the Vietnam War.
Another impressive memorial is located at the Hale'iwa Beach Park on the north shore. When we first visited this site in October of 1995, we stopped, quite honestly, because of the beauty of the beach. It was then, however, that we discovered a beautiful war memorial. A white obelisk stands near the beach in tribute to those from the Waialua-Kahuku area who have died in the wars of this century. On each side of the obelisk are carved the names of the dead heroes of World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War "who gave their lives that the rest of the world may live in peace."