On the last Monday of May, Americans celebrate Memorial Day, honoring those who have died for this nation while serving in combat.
Although begun as an honor primarily for Union Soldiers who died in the Civil War, this holiday, initially called "Decoration Day," was recognized by both North and South on the last day of Monday by the end of World War I. The holiday eventually spread to include the fallen of all wars, and became known with time as Memorial Day.
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.
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 the December 7, 1941, 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.