So what do you do all day in early retirement? For starters, you can volunteer at the brand-new USS ARIZONA Memorial Visitor’s Center. Spouse wangled a hardhat tour of the museums as they get ready for their 7 December opening on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
First, the park’s names have changed to reflect the growth of the visitor’s center. It’s still the USS ARIZONA Memorial, but the property of the visitor’s center has been renamed the “World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor” to include the memorials for not just the USS ARIZONA but also the USS UTAH, the USS OKLAHOMA, and other ships and shore sites attacked that morning. The new visitor’s center also consolidates ticket sales and transportation for the USS BOWFIN Submarine Museum, the Battleship MISSOURI Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum (on Ford Island).
The old visitor’s center, built in 1979, had an undersized museum on a patchwork of properties along the waterfront. Not all of the land was owned by the Navy, and some parcels were still in use for waterfront operations. When the USS ARIZONA association decided to renovate the old visitor’s center it was discovered to be sinking into the landfill. After the Memorial’s association raised $56M in donations, the Navy consolidated ownership of the entire property from Halawa Stream to the Ford Island Causeway. The old visitor’s center and museum were demolished, the landfill was stabilized with new pilings, and a new center took its place. The old theater was renovated and two new museums were added along with the new visitor’s center and a large education & research center.
The new national monument now stretches along the waterfront showing a panorama from the Battleship MISSOURI Memorial and the USS ARIZONA Memorial to the USS BOWFIN Submarine Museum. Other monuments and memorials to other ships and sites attacked that morning are also placed along the waterfront promenade, including one of the USS ARIZONA’s anchors. This diagram shows the layout of the property.
The two new museums are the “Road to War” and “Attack” themes with modern display technologies. The first museum shows the Japanese and American perspectives of the events leading up to war, including the blatant racist attitudes of both 1930s cultures. It includes the typical static displays, murals, and newsreels along with new exhibits loaned from the National Archives and survivor’s oral/video histories. All of the exhibits have been designed for wheelchair access and visually-impaired visitors. For example large murals are accompanied by a smaller mural on a pedestal at wheelchair height with textured features and Braille labels. (The smaller mural is also much more kid-friendly.) Display models of the aircraft carriers, battleships, and planes are accompanied by smaller castings of the figure for visitors to handle, along with more Braille labels.
The “Attack” museum immediately immerses visitors in a mural showing the USS OKLAHOMA under attack. A scale model of a torpedo bomber overhead replicates the exact aircraft fuselage numbers and crew. Other models show how the torpedoes were modified to run in the harbor’s shallow waters. A new panoramic video shows a detailed CGI simulation of the Japanese carriers approaching Hawaii, the two waves of aircraft, and the sites attacked that morning. It includes actual movie-camera footage of the USS ARIZONA magazine explosion. The stark brutality of the imagery is intensified by survivor’s video testimony of what they saw and did that morning. You will cry.
One theme carried through the museums starts with a photo mural of a dozen people, both civilian and military, American and Japanese, who were present that day. As visitors walk through the exhibits, they see what each person was doing and how they were affected by the attack. Not all of the people were survivors.
The USS ARIZONA Memorial stayed open during the entire renovation. The new visitor’s center opened several months ago and is putting the finishing touches on the renovations. The museums will open on 5 December with the formal ceremonies on 6-7 December.
I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers and veterans.