Seventy years ago on Wednesday, one of the world's great paradises became one of the world's most hellish flashpoints.
Even if you've been to Oahu's Pearl Harbor, paid your respects and thought you had seen it all, think again. The $56-million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is just a year old, there's a new audio tour with narration by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, and a refurbished Arizona Memorial will debut on May 28, Memorial Day, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the monument.
This week at Pearl Harbor will be full of 70th anniversary activities, symposiums, tributes and two military burials for recently deceased survivors of the Arizona and the Utah battleships.
About 100 veterans of the battle will visit from all over the world. "That's the best part of seeing the memorial," said Eileen Martinez, a National Park Service spokeswoman. "It's living history."
It will all take place in the sprawling Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, operated by the National Park Service, a 17-acre campus that features a new museum, movie theaters and exhibits. It is also the ticket distribution center for the ship tours, replacing a system that required visitors to line up at the individual ship memorials for tours.
Meanwhile, restoration and preparations are underway for the
Arizona, dedicated on Memorial Day 1962. The memorial, perhaps Pearl Harbor's most striking visual, appears to float gracefully over the sunken ship.
Over time, the memorial suffered from heavy traffic — 150 visitors every 15 minutes — and the effects of salt and tropical weather.
Perhaps most intriguing of all, though, is the mending of a long-running mistake. The Arizona refurbishment will allow the repair of 75 errors on a wall of inscriptions in the Shine Room. Sections are being removed and re-engraved to fix misspellings and incorrect ranks among the names of the 1,177 Marines and sailors who lost their lives on the ship.
It is all part of a Pearl Harbor upgrade that began with a groundbreaking in 2008. The major change, the new visitor center, provides a gateway to the historic sites, most of which are free. The launch ride to the Arizona is free, for example, but the number of tickets is limited and they are issued on a first-come basis. The USS Oklahoma Memorial is free, but bus shuttle tickets cost $2.
The battleship Missouri, best known as the site of Japan's surrender, is also open on nearby Ford Island. Adult admission is $20, $10 for ages 4 to 12.
The visitor center itself offers newsreels, galleries and re-enactments of the attack, and explains the events that led up to the war.
The focal point, of course, is the attack itself on Dec. 7, 1941. A short film titled "Battlefield Oahu" gives a tactical explanation of how the Japanese raid was carried out. Artifacts such as uniforms, medals and weapons are also included.
In February, the new audio tour was unveiled:
"As the bullets started flying from Japanese aircraft, Army Air Corps pilots Ken Tyler and George Welch raced to Haleiwa airfield in Welch's car, avoiding strafing Japanese planes along the way," says one section of the tape. "At Haleiwa, they jumped into two P-40 airplanes and took off. The pilots engaged the enemy over Ewa field."
There's also a newly expanded bookstore that — like the Visitor Center — is twice the size of the old one.
The new visitor center, through which about 1.5 million people a year will pass, became necessary when the original center sank as much as 30 inches in some spots. The structure was designed to be raised periodically with hydraulic jacks and concrete shims. Over the years, it was raised four times before cracking and moisture required its replacement.
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