Pearl Harbor National Memorial: Facts, History & Design


On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese aircrafts attacked Pearl Harbor where the US naval fleet was stationed. Japan destroyed half the fleet, killing more than 2,000 Americans and injuring over a thousand. The US officially entered World War II the next day, and the eventual consequences for Japan would be brutally realized in two nuclear bombs. 

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Ultimately, Japan lost the war but the initial attack on Pearl Harbor was still felt by the entire nation. In time, the Pearl Harbor Memorial was built, providing a place to reflect and remember the great loss of those stationed at the naval base.

Where is Pearl Harbor National Memorial? 

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial can be found on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Oahu in Hawaii. 

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History of Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Just like any other memorial, Pearl Harbor National Memorial was erected to honor the lives of Americans who died during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Here are a few fast facts about this memorial.

  • A formal day of dedication for the memorial occurred in 1962 on Memorial Day.
  • In 1966, the Memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The administration of the memorial was handled by the US Navy until they collaborated with National Park Service in 1980 to create a joint administration that handles upkeep, tourism, and fundraising to this day.
  • The memorial contains nine stations that represent various aspects of the war. The primary focus consists of two US Navy ships, the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri, representing where the war began and ended.
  • Even after 79 years, the USS Arizona hull still leaks out small amounts of oil which have come to be known as “the tears of the Arizona.”

Both ships had a huge significance in the war. The USS Missouri was the ship that saw the conclusion of the war on its deck when the Japanese surrendered to US General Douglas MacArthur. The USS Arizona was the ship that took four bombs during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. One of those bombs generated an explosion that took the lives of 1,177 Americans and sank the ship. 

During the war, parts of the USS Arizona were salvaged but the hull was allowed to stay where it had fallen and an elegant white structure was constructed over the spot. Today, this memorial alone welcomes thousands of visitors each year where visitors can look into the waters and see the submerged hull of the ship. The USS Missouri is docked and positioned to avoid overshadowing the remains of USS Arizona. 

How it came to be

Robert Ripley, the founder of a company called Ripley’s Believe it or Not, had a famous radio show. His first visit to Pearl Harbor was in 1942. Six years after that initial visit, he began broadcasting from Pearl Harbor.

Thanks to connections of his good friends with the Department of the Navy, he wrote letters to then Rear Admiral J.J. Manning and pitched in his idea and desire to set up a memorial site. Ripley’s idea was rejected because it was too costly, but the Navy did pursue the idea of constructing a memorial to honor the fallen.

In 1949, the Pacific War Memorial Commission was created. It was this group's job to construct a permanent memorial in the state of Hawaii. Things were slow until the early 50s. Up to that time, there were only a few traditions that honored the fallen, such as hoisting and lowering the flag at the site where the USS Arizona was still submerged.

In 1955, a three-meter tall stone of basalt and a plaque were the first signs of a permanent memorial. Then in 1958, President Eisenhower signed legislation that mandated the construction of the memorial, and the cost for the construction was set at $500,000 of which 40% was subsidized by the government. Hawaii raised around $50,000. A television show named This is Your Life raised a whopping $95,000 by having a soldier on who survived the attack on USS Arizona. Even Elvis Presley raised more than 10% of the total cost from one of his benefit concerts in 1961.

The memorial finally came into existence a year later in loving memory of the Armed Forces who dedicated their lives to serving their nation.

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Just as the placement of USS Missouri and USS Arizona has a meaning, the design history of the Pearl Harbor Memorial holds meaning and interest, too. Even the story of its architect, Alfred Preis, has connections to the strife of WWII. Alfred, an Austrian, fled Nazi Germany and settled in Honolulu. After the Japanese bombing, however, he was placed into an internment camp since Japan and Germany were allies. He was released after three months.

The US Navy specified that the design of the memorial should be a bridge-like structure that looks over the submerged remains of USS Arizona and can hold over 200 people. Alfred came up with an idea of a structure that was 184 meters in length, dipped in the middle, and rose at both ends. The idea represented in his design depicts both the low-point for America when the bombing occurred and victory at the end of the war.

The structure contains a total of three rooms. First is the entry room where visitors enter the memorial. The second room, which is also the Assembly Hall, might be the most meaningful part of the structure to visitors.

The middle has seven windows each on both sides and the roof. While the number seven represents the date of the attack, the total number amounts to 21, referring to the 21-gun salute in tribute to those lost. The floor of this room is directly above the wreckage of USS Arizona and has a hole cut through it for visitors to see the sunken hull. In respect for the dead, many visitors drop flowers down the hole.

The last room is known as the shrine where the names of all the crewmen who lost their lives in the attack are listed. 

How to Pay Your Respects at Pearl Harbor National Memorial

As a visitor to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, your presence and sobriety during the tour and time at the memorial goes a long way in showing respect. Learn all you can about those who gave their lives in the attack and take a flower with you to place at sea in honor of those lost. If you’re there long enough and you see a Navy ship pass by, you might witness a special tradition called, “manning the rails.”

Sailors around the world have long had a tradition of “manning the yards.” Sailors would stand on the yardarms on their vessels to honor a fallen sailor or esteemed personage. The tradition evolved to “manning the rails” and now sailors stand evenly spaced around the entire superstructure of the ship. The US Navy started this tradition for the sunken USS Arizona, and now US Navy ships, the Coast Guard, and merchant ships pay their respects by manning the rails whenever they pass by the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor as a gesture to respect the dead.

As a sign of healing and goodwill between Japan and America, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial during Obama’s tenure and offered condolences. To this day the memorial is visited by almost 2 million people every year who wish to do the same.

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Honoring Their Memory

The unprovoked attack against Pearl Harbor was a tragic incident that sent shockwaves through America and forced the hand of the United States to officially declare war against Japan.

Records show that 23 sets of brothers died on-board the USS Arizona alone, joining over 1,100 servicemen who gave their lives in service to the country. Let’s remember these brave men and honor their memory.


  1. Tikkanen, Amy. “USS Arizona.” World History, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020.
  2. Underwood, Analisa. “Manning the Rails.” The Sextant, US Naval History and Heritage, October 3, 2016.
  3. Maranzani, Barbara. “5 Facts About Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona.” History Stories, History, December 7, 2018.

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