There is no way that schools can teach us a lot of details about every facet of life. American History was always one of my favorite subjects, but I certainly did not recall much about World War II beyond the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Adolph Hitler and Nazi atrocities, the D-Day invasion, and our bringing the war to a faster conclusion by dropping two atomic bombs.
I am so glad I homeschooled my son David for six years. Sometime in the late 1990s, we spent a full four months on World War II. We learned an incredible amount about Pearl Harbor thanks to detailed lessons, the reading of several children’s and teen books, library Book-it tapes and a wide variety of writing assignments and tests.
David and I were totally prepared for our November 2005 visit to Pearl Harbor’s U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. Will you and your children be ready? If not, at least find a few online articles or a simple book to read together to ensure the most rewarding experience possible.
There is no minimum age requirement for a Pearl Harbor visit. Since this is a site to honor and respect the dead, just make sure everyone dresses respectfully, meaning no bathing suits or t-shirts with questionable messages.
Since we visited on a Saturday, we made sure to get up extra early. We knew the hours were 7:30-5 daily, closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Despite arriving at 7:15, there was already a huge line of about 300 people ahead of us. We learned that the site gets some 1.5 million visitors a year, more than twice the amount it was originally built to accommodate.
We got to the front of the line at 7:55, enjoyed breakfast items at the onsite snack shop, bought some incredible and unique souvenirs, took pictures of the atrium’s colorful plants, and also had time for a brief walk to the waterfront for pictures while awaiting our 8:45 tour. Photo subjects included faraway views of the U.S.S. Arizona, the USS Bowfin submarine, and the U.S.S. Missouri, upon which the V-J Day documents were signed, marking Japan’s ultimate surrender.
With our colorful National Park Service tickets and special memorial cards of Pearl Harbor area heroes in hand, we walked into the theatre for the special 23-minute documentary film recalling events both before and during the attack.
The film began in 1931, with Japan moving into the Chinese province of Manchuria and into other parts of Southeast Asia. It told of FDR halting oil to Japan in the summer of 1941, explained Admiral Yamamoto’s plan of the attack (183 warplanes were used in the first wave, then 167 more warplanes, bombers and dive bombers with torpedoes), information about General Tojo, the radar warning of the Pearl Harbor attack that wasn’t heeded, and how the tide of the war turned at the Battle of Midway Island.
Also shown were actual footage of the bombings of Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Scofield Barracks and other parts of Oahu. Many will recall similar scenes from the movies “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “Pearl Harbor.”
Finally, we were told that this site is a living cemetery. The film left many of us teary-eyed. A few minutes later, we were on a small boat, headed toward the memorial, for a self-guided exploration.
We first walked back to The Shrine Room, which features a huge marble wall with the names of all 1,177 marines and sailors who died on the ship. The site was decorated with a variety of leis and other colorful flowers that were brought by visitors.
Peering overboard, we saw the oil still bubbling from the ship’s hull, actual parts of the ship afloat in the water, including the gun turret and small memorials to other ships that were sunk on December 7-8, 1941.
At 9:40, we headed back to shore, viewing more artifacts from the Visitor Center Museum. Shortly thereafter, we left the site, never to be quite the same again. It was a sad and humbling, but also educational and memorable experience…similar, but to a lesser degree, like the event itself.
If you are bringing children, visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial’s Website, www.nps.gov/usar/forkids/index.htm.