On the 80th anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii (with its many memorials) is once again in our sights—this time, for remembrance. But just as Pearl Harbor extended beyond Hawaii during World War II, it does so today as the world recognizes the red, white and blue sacrifice of “the greatest generation” of valiant troops who defended the USA. As Pearl Harbor’s echoes of war are honored in peace, here’s a look at some relevant monuments then and now.
Current Pearl Harbor battleships pay tribute to those lost on December 7, 1941.
World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument
World War II Peace Memorial on Attu Island.
American troops during the Battle of Attu attempt to reclaim the Aleutian island from Japanese invaders.
For the USA, World War II began at Pearl Harbor. But World War II’s Pacific valor memorials extend beyond Hawaii’s military outpost. The “World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument” actually comprises nine memorials in three western states—California, Alaska and Hawaii. One little-known memorial in Alaska commemorates the Battle of Attu in the Aleutian Islands—the USA’s only land combat against Japan on American soil. These battlefields and military installations were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985. Two years later, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Japanese government collaborated and officially placed the World War II Peace Memorial on Engineer Hill. Pearl Harbor, however, is home to five of the famous World War II valor memorials—the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the USS Utah Memorial, parts of Ford Island and Battleship Row. All nine memorials are run by the National Park Service, but Pearl Harbor’s sunken battleships remain under the U.S. Navy’s jurisdiction.
USS Arizona Memorial
Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona was sunk 80 years ago. Architect Alfred Preis’s USS Arizona Memorial design represents the December 7, 1941 setback as well as the USA’s ultimate victory in World War II.
The USS Arizona Memorial is Hawaii’s biggest tourist attraction.
The USS Arizona Memorial was partially funded by an Elvis Presley benefit concert and dedicated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
Pearl Harbor’s most famous memorial salutes 1,177 sailors and Marines who perished in the December 7, 1941 attack (most are still entombed in the sunken battleship wreckage which is a gravesite). This National Historic Landmark was designed by Alfred Preis, an Austrian-born Jew and converted Catholic who escaped Nazi persecution only to become a later victim of the USA’s internment camp policy which detained and relocated thousands of Japanese, German and Italian-American citizens after the Pearl Harbor attack. Preis (who also conceived the Honolulu Zoo), designed the memorial’s low-slung bow shape to represent an initial battle defeat, perseverance, and ultimate war victory. Elvis Presley performed a benefit concert to raise funds for the memorial, which was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. With more than 1.8 million visitors per year, the USS Arizona (which still leaks 9 quarts of fuel per day) is Hawaii’s biggest tourist attraction.
Schofield Barracks suffered collateral damage during Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Two-thirds of the USA’s airfield fleet at Pearl Harbor was incapacitated by Japan’s surprise attack on December 7, 1941.
Originally built in 1909, Schofield Barracks is an army base designed to protect Pearl Harbor and the island of Oahu from attack. That barely happened 75 years ago as only a handful of U.S. counterattack airplanes took off. Imperial Japan’s December 1941 two-wave assault wiped out two-thirds of U.S. air defenses at adjacent Wheeler Airfield and inflicted collateral damage to soldier housing. Bullet holes from Japanese strafing are still visible, a grim reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of American forces. Today Schofield Barracks serves as command headquarters for United States Army Hawaii. Known today as the Tropic Lightning Division, it’s home to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, 7,000 housing units, training facilities, firing ranges, and helicopter landing zones. It was also a prominent locale in the film From Here To Eternity.
The 441-acre Ford Island was front and center during the Pearl Harbor attack.
This island (originally called Mokuʻumeʻume by native Hawaiians) at Pearl Harbor could be called Flip Flop Island. The 441-acres of land has changed ownership hands faster than a hot luau torch (even King Kamehameha gifted it away)—serving as an ancient Hawaiian fertility ritual site, sugar plantation and eventually, a dredged military battleship station isle that became the epicenter of the Pearl Harbor attack. Among other duties, it currently serves as a tsunami warning station and it was featured in the films Tora Tora Tora! and Pearl Harbor.
Ford Island’s Chief Petty Officer Bungalows
Ford Island petty officer bungalow at Pearl Harbor.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Navy built single-story wooden bungalows on Ford Island to house chief petty officers who worked on nearby battleships. Some were damaged during the Pearl Harbor attack, but ultimately, they survived (and housed officers until the 1990s). One historic bungalow succumbed to the wrecking ball of an overzealous contractor who inadvertently demolished it in 2015 as part of a renovation project. Oops. The National Park Service admitted its mistake—the demolition violated procedure as Hawaiian preservation authorities weren’t consulted beforehand as required. The bungalow was replaced with a replica residence.