Visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial

Megan Behnke, Staff Writer

On a sunny, calm Sunday morning on Dec. 7, 1941, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, everything changed. My grandmother grew up on the naval base of Hickam Field, just miles away from Pearl Harbor, and was only 7 years old when Pearl Harbor and the surrounding bases were bombed.

She and her family were getting ready to go to church. She was playing outside in the yard when she saw a plane fly by with a red circle in the middle. She asked her dad what it was. He replied that it was nothing. It was just target practice. This is something a lot of the islanders thought. But it wasn’t.

In a split second, planes filled the sky. Bombs were everywhere. My grandmother and her family had to quickly flee their home, leaving behind everything. She lost her home. She lost her friend. She lost everything but her family. There were 2,403 Americans killed in the attack, with nearly 1,200 more wounded.

The day after, on Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a statement, proclaiming that “Dec. 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.” As he said this, the USS Arizona was still in flames, with men still trapped, and a total of 1,177 dead. Another battleship, Oklahoma, had capsized and 429 died.


This past August, I went to Oahu and visited Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. It is a surreal feeling. Looking out at the harbor, trying to imagine everything that happened nearly 75 years ago, is incredible. There are two separate museums with missiles from the attack, clothes, a copy of President Roosevelt’s famous proclamation following the attack, and the full history from the lead up to the attack to the aftermath.

After watching a video about the attack, we made our way to a boat to go out to the USS Arizona Memorial. That short boat ride was really something. Looking around, seeing ships lined up, knowing that 75 years ago, everything was different. There were walls set up on the water, indicating where a battleship was when Pearl Harbor got attacked. The ships included Nevada, Tennessee, just to name a couple.

After stepping onto the memorial, you can see the ship. There is an open hole in the floor in the middle so you can see it in the water.

In the back of the memorial, the names of all the men who died with the ship are engraved. Flowers are everywhere. Since the attack, surviving crew members have asked to be buried with their men on the ship. Several have done that, and only a few more are left. Some say that if you take pictures of the oil at the USS Arizona Memorial, you may see a face of a crew member. I didn’t get any good pictures of the oil, but visitors have said they have seen faces.

The visit opened my eyes. I learned about Pearl Harbor in school. I have heard my grandmother’s stories. But to actually go there, see where it happened, see where the battleships were, see the memorial – I will never forget that visit. My grandma was only a child when it happened, but when she told the stories, it was like it happened recently. My mom said she has gone to Pearl Harbor before, but my grandma could barely handle it. And I don’t blame her.

Thank you to all who risk their lives every day. RIP to those who lost their lives that tragic day. As the 75th anniversary arrives, let’s never forget December 7, 1941.