Pearl Harbor: Reflecting on the Past

U.S.S Arizona Memorial
The U.S.S Arizona memorial.

Something you all will learn about me is that beyond travel and video games (and Kim *winks*), I have a passion for history with a particular interest in World War II. I’ve long-since devoured Ambrose’s works (I’m looking at my copy of Citizen Soldiers right now) and made my way through every historical narrative and memoir from the war I can get my hands on. Works by veterans such as E.B. ‘Sledgehammer’ Sledge, Robert ‘Lucky’ Leckie, William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere and Edward ‘Babe’ Heffron grace my library as some of my favorite books. I attribute much of this interest and respect for veterans of all wars to my father: a former Marine and a veteran of the Gulf War.

It was due to my father’s military career that I have the extreme honor of having been born on and lived for a time on Oahu. In my youth, my parents never took me over to Pearl Harbor, but as an adult, I could not wait to visit the site with an understanding of the event. Let’s get this out of the way really quick in case you missed it in that last sentence (Beware – the rest of this paragraph may sound a bit preachy or self-righteous. I’d call it cautionary, but you may want to skip ahead just a tiny bit if you have young kids and don’t want to be told how to parent by a kid-less punk).

War memorials demand a certain amount of respect and are not exactly high on the “thrill factor” – this is by design. People go to these places to garner an understanding of our history and to pay respects to those who fought and died to build that history. I don’t want to dig into the politics of any conflict as that goes well beyond what we want to cover here – what I’m trying to get at is that places like this are a somber, often humbling experience meant to prevent us from forgetting our mistakes so that we don’t end up repeating them. Which brings me to this: war memorials are not really a good family oriented outing with respect to young kids. Those of you with kids know your kids much better than I do (I’d hope) so use your best judgement when visiting lest you get scowled at by the likes of me.

That being said, Pearl Harbor is a fantastic place to visit for those looking to gain a bit of perspective on the leading pretense for the United States finally joining WWII. Kim and I visited as part of a whirlwind, daylong tour of Oahu. We had booked a tour with Pearl Harbor Tours. As we were trying to cram a lot of our own activities into one day, we were looking for a short tour and their Pearl Harbor & Historic Honolulu City Tour fit the bill perfectly. They picked us up right from our hotel bright and early in a small tour bus in downtown Honolulu, got us into Pearl Harbor right when it opened and had us back in about 5 hours – we were back by lunch. Our driver was great (his name escapes me) and extremely informative.

The drive along Waikiki to H1 towards Pearl Harbor was nice. Waikiki is full of fun resorts, touristy shops and restaurants and the beach is gorgeous. The real fun for me though, was getting to see the hospital where I was born as we made our way along H1: the just-so-lovely, sprawling monstrosity that is the Triply Army Medical Center. Take a look:

Nice, isn’t it?

Soon enough we had reached Pearl Harbor: a gorgeous, well harbor. Even if some of your party is just interested in some beautiful pictures, bring them along. The worst that happens is that they learn something. One of the first things I said to Kim as we were wandering about was something along the lines of “While Pearl Harbor was a terrible tragedy, at least there is some solace that those who went down with their ships rest in such a beautiful spot.”

When you arrive at Pearl Harbor, the obvious main attraction and focal point for your view is the memorial platform erected over the U.S.S Arizona. This beautiful monument serves to remind you of the lives lost on December 7, 1941. It was recommended to us that we take the early tour so that we could get a good time for the boat that will take you out to this platform. Apparently, on busy days you can miss out if you don’t get there soon enough. We still had almost two hours to wait and we got their right when it opened. That said, there’s a few nice attractions to take in while you wait for your boat. First, there’s the view of the harbor, (as stated – beautiful).

The grounds of the memorial welcome area are well groomed and feature a number of informational plaques and pictures showing how the ships were arranged on that historic day. Quotes from survivors of the attack are engraved on some of the displays, lending some humanity and insight into an event most of us cannot begin to comprehend for ourselves. Additionally, a handful of very detailed and extremely well done exhibits are inside some of the buildings. Highlights include the extended video briefing on Pearl Harbor (you will receive a short version just before boarding the boat to the U.S.S Arizona), newspapers showing the headlines of the attack and other interesting artifacts from the attack. We found that the two exhibits, “Road to War” and “Attack”, while compact, took up a good chunk of the time we had prior to boarding our craft out to the U.S.S Arizona.

It is heartbreaking, but hauntingly beautiful.

The real highlight though is actually reaching the U.S.S Arizona memorial. As you approach, you get a better view of the U.S.S Missouri (the site of surrender of the Empire of Japan – where WWII effectively ended). This ship stands as a reminder that the tragedy surrounding you was not allowed to fade into antiquity and those that fought to defend the harbor were not lost in vain. Surrounding the Arizona memorial are markers indicating where other American ships were damaged or sunk.

The US flag flies above the memorial, fluttering gently in the trade winds. Inside, an air of reverence takes hold of you and your boat mates. At the back is a list of the US Navy and US Marine Corps crew who died aboard the U.S.S Arizona. Small barricades politely remind visitors to stay back and reflect so that everyone can get a good view of this wall of 1177 names. In the center of the platform, a Navy Officer will perform a changing of the colors. The center of the platform has some large viewing cutouts so that you can see the ship below you. Fish glide gently about it and you can still see some slicks of oil and rust floating away in the waves. Some of the taller portions of the ship still poke up from beneath the waves. It is heartbreaking, but hauntingly beautiful.

I have a passion for history and visiting Pearl Harbor proved to be a wonderful, insightful experience. I want to understand history from the point of view of the people who lived it, particularly WWII history because it shaped the world as we know it today. History was made at Pearl Harbor and we are still dealing with the repercussions in many ways today and visiting it in person, no matter how much you’ve read about the events of December 7,1941, will undoubtedly affect you and teach you more than you could ever learn from reading or watching movies. That being said, I feel like visiting Pearl Harbor has provided me with new insights to carry to my other passion: game development.

I personally believe that done well, games offer us a window into things that we don’t understand that is unlike any other media in existence. Games are interactive and experiential and I think that narrative focused games could do a lot to help us understand our history while still proving entertaining. I’m in the camp that thinks WWII games should make a comeback using the best technology we have available. I don’t believe that the “great” WWII game has been made yet. There is no Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers of World War II video games yet. Some have captured moments of the conflict – the D-Day sequence in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the Pearl Harbor scene in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and countless other moments of WWII have been portrayed and often done well in games like Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms, but what these games often fail to capture are the extremely human parts of World War II – the parts contained and focused on heavily in most of the memoirs I’ve ever read. Combat was absolutely a huge part of WWII and should be a focus of (almost) any game set in the conflict, but most of these games fail to take on or involve (cut-scenes don’t count) the player in the tragedy, heart-break, triumph, humor and brotherhood/unity that were part of the carnage.

This isn’t a slight to the developers of the titles I mentioned above – I understand budget and technology constraints, but with games like The Last of Us or the poorly titled, but woefully underrated Spec Ops: The Line coming out now, I think we’ve learned a lot over the past decade and that we should take into account. In short, the first “great” WWII game of Saving Private Ryan caliber will be exhaustively researched and all respect will be given to the veterans and politics of the time in order to give the player the most comprehensive experience that you possibly can. (And hey – if you’re hiring to make a World War II game, I’m definitely available *wink*).

What to know if you go

Pearl Harbor Tours

The tour we took was the Pearl Harbor & Historic Honolulu City Tour, but there are plenty of options.

Phone: 808-737-3700

Places

Pearl Harbor

1 Arizona Memorial Place
Honolulu, HI 96818
(808)423-7300

Pearl Harbor

1 Arizona Memorial Place
Honolulu, HI 96818
(808)423-7300
http://www.nps.gov/valr/index.htm
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