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The History, Bombing and Legacy of Pearl Harbor

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor seen from the Naval Air Station. Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia Commons

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor seen from the Naval Air Station. Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia Commons

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1. About Pearl Harbor

2. Pearl Harbor Attack

3. Visiting Pearl Harbor

1. About Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is a small, landlocked bay located on the southern tip of the island of O’ahu in the American state of Hawaii. It is widely regarded as one of the best natural harbors in the entire Pacific Ocean owing to its depth, steep shoreline and topography which provides shelter against the weather for anchored vessels.

Following the forcible annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1900 in the wake of the sugar barons-led rebellion, Pearl Harbor was converted into a naval base. More than a century later, Pearl Harbor continues to be an important strategic military outpost for the American armed forces. It is currently home to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman installation, which houses over 75,000 members of the U.S. Navy and Air Force, along with their family members.

The etymology of the name Pearl Harbor originates from the Hawaiian word “Wai Momi,” which translates as “pearl water.” It was named as such due to the prevalence of pearl oysters in the waters surrounding the harbor.

1.1. O’ahu

Oahu (O’ahu) is one of the eight major islands of the American state of Hawaii (the others being Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe). At approximately 596.7 mi2 (1,545 km2) in area, it is also the third largest of the eight.

Oahu, whose capital is the world famous tourist destination Honolulu, is home to almost one million people. Geographically, the island is divided by two mountain ranges (Koolau and Waianae), which are in turn encircled by an island-wide coastal plain.

Oahu enjoys a wonderfully mild year-long near-tropical climate, with temperatures rarely going outside of the 65 °F to 86°F (18°C-30°C) range. Nonetheless, visitors should be wary of the rain, which falls erratically throughout the year. While there are notable increases in windy weather towards the end of the year, the island rarely experiences hurricanes or major storms.

The island has evolved into one of the most famous tourist locations in the world, with an estimated of over five million tourists annually visiting to enjoy the weather, beaches, culture, and cuisine.

Kāneʻohe Bay in O'ahu. Image courtesy of Anthony Quintano
Kāneʻohe Bay in O’ahu. Image courtesy of Anthony Quintano

1.1.1 Cultural and Historical Attractions

• Bishop Museum
• Byodo-In Temple
• Hale’iwa Historical Town
• Honolulu Academy of Arts
• Iolani Palace
• Pearl Harbor Memorial
• Pearl Harbor Museum
• Pearl Harbor Naval Base (Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, JBPHH)
• Polynesian Cultural Center
• Pu’u O Mahuka
• Queen Emma’s Summer Palace

1.1.2 Shopping and Recreation

• Wet’n’Wild Hawaii

Wet’n’Wild Hawaii is located inside a lush 29 acres estate near Kapolei, Oahu’s second city. The all-new Wet’n’Wild water park offers over 25 rides and attractions for friends, families and thrill-seekers alike. It is Hawaii’s only water park and the top family and local attraction on the island.

While thrill seekers can enjoy the Tornado, which catapults riders across a 130-foot tunnel into swirling, raging waters and down into a splash down pool, the park also contains gentler attractions such as the calming Kapolei Kooler, a winding and placid river; Water World, an fun-filled zone for children filled with fountains, mini-slides and water cannons; and Hawaiian Waters, a massive 400,000-gallon wave pool.

• International Marketplace Waikiki (art and crafts)
• 2100 Kalakaua Avenue (the O’ahu Rodeo Drive)
• Waikiki Beach Walk

1.1.3 Beaches

Ala Moana Beach Park
Banzai Pipeline
Barbers Point
Bellows Beach Park
Ehukai Beach Park
Hale’iwa Beach
Halona Beach Cove
Kahana Bay Beach Park
Kailua Beach Park
Kualoa Regional Park
Lanikai Beach
Makapu’u Beach
Mokule’ia Beach
Pokai Bay Beach
Sandy Beach Park
Sunset Beach
Three Tables
Waikiki Beach
Waimea Bay Beach

1.1.4 Reservations and Scenic Attractions

• Diamond Head State Park See Honolulu for more details.
• Dole Plantation (Pineapple Garden Maze)
• Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
• Lyon Arboretum
• Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
• Pearl Harbor National Park
• Round-Top Forest Reserve
• Waimea Valley Audubon Center (Waimea Falls Park)

2. Pearl Harbor Attack

At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, wails of sirens and roars of explosions shocked the approximately 43,000 American soldiers of the 24th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division and Army Air Corps stationed at Pearl Harbor.

For the next two hours, 353 Imperial Japanese Navy dive bombers, torpedo bombers, horizontal bombers and fighters planes, led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo and launched from the decks of six aircraft carriers parked at about 200 miles north of Oahu, attacked ships anchored at the Pearl Harbor Naval base and airplanes at nearby Hickman Airfield with waves after waves of bombs and torpedoes.

By 9.45 a.m., Pearl Harbor had been reduced to almost rubble and ashes. Eight battleships, three destroyers, three cruisers, an antiaircraft vessel, a battleship dock, a dry dock, and a fuel depot were either destroyed or severely damaged under the assault. At nearby Hickam, Bellows and Wheeler airfields, 188 of the 394 grounded planes were destroyed, with an additional 159 damaged. But more importantly, 2,402 (including 68 civilians) Americans died during the attack and another 1,272 was wounded. The Japanese forces, meanwhile, suffered significantly lower losses: 65 deaths, 29 planes, and five small submarines – such was the comprehensiveness of the victory.

The shell shocked Americans, many of whom were still sleeping at the start of the attack after being granted the weekend off by the Commander of the Hawaiian Division, LTG Walter C. Short, as a reward for a successful training drill several days earlier.

However, despite the seemingly successful bombing campaign, the Japanese missed the primary targets of the attack; the American aircraft carriers. By a combination of luck and faulty Japanese intelligence, all eight aircraft carriers were absent from the Pearl Harbor. The Japanese forces also shockingly missed the shoreside and maintenance facilities there. As a result, the Americans were able to incredibly salvage and repair all but three of the vessels! Pearl Harbor, meanwhile, went on to become one of the most powerful strategic assets of the Allied Forces during World War II.

Moreover, the attack turned the hitherto divided public opinion into a resolute yes for the Americans to enter WWII. Legendary American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century the following day, “Day of Infamy,” as he declared war on Japan. FDR went on to declare war on Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy three days later.

In hindsight, the Japanese attack, precipitated by an American oil and raw materials embargo against the country, only served to unite the American people and ushered the United States’ entry into WWII. Four years later, the Americans exacted an extremely disproportionate revenge against the Japanese by dropping nuclear bombs on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, an act which ultimately led to the death of at least a quarter million people.

2.1 List of American Vessels Sunk or Damaged During the Pearl Harbor Attack

A. Battleships

• Arizona (BB-39) (Sunk Total Loss)
• California (BB-44) (Sunk Raised And Repaired)
• Maryland (BB-46) (Light Damage)
• Nevada (BB-36) (Beached Heavy Damage, Repaired)
• Oklahoma (BB-37) (Capsized -Raised Not Repaired)
• Pennsylvania (BB-38) (In Dry Dock No. 1. – Light Damage, Repaired)
• Tennessee (BB-43) (Light Damage, Repaired)
• West Virginia (BB-48) (Sunk Raised And Repaired)

B. Heavy Cruisers

New Orleans (CA-32) (Light Damage, Repaired)
San Francisco (CA-38) (Light Damage, Repaired)

C. Light Cruisers

Detroit (CL-8) (Light Damage, Repaired)
Helena (CL-50) (Light Damage, Repaired)
Honolulu (CL-48) (Light damage, Repaired)
Raleigh (CL-7) (Heavy Damage, Repaired)

D. Destroyers

Cassin (DD-372) (In Dry Dock No.1 – Damaged Beyond Repair, Parts Salvaged and Built into new hull)
Downes (DD-375) (Damaged Beyond, Repair Parts Salvaged and built into new hull)
Helm (DD-388) (Light Damage, Repaired)
Shaw (DD-373) (In Floating Drydock YFD-2 -Very Heavy Damage, Repaired)
Ward (DD-139) (Patrolling channel entrance to Pearl Harbor)

E. Mine Layer

Oglala (CM-4) (Capsized Raised, Repaired)

F. Anti-Aircraft

Utah (AG-16) (Capsized Not Raised Or Repaired)

G. Repair Ships

Vestal (AR-4) Heavy Damage

H. Sea Plane Tenders

Curtiss (AV-4) Light damage

I. Harbor Tugs

Sotoyomo (YT-9) (Sunk Raised and Repaired)

3. Visiting Pearl Harbor

Oddly, most Americans visiting Pearl Harbor fail to do so during its best weather months of the year, which is typically between May and December. Instead, the majority of tourists to Pearl Harbor and Hawaii generally tend to visit between December and April –especially during the final two weeks of December-, which coincides with the rainy season. Ironically, this trend also drives up the prices of traveling (inbound airfare and local car rental) and accommodation. Smart travelers, meanwhile, will be able to enjoy the best rates during the so-called off-season, while avoiding the massive crowds off the peak-season. So, please plan your trip accordingly.

Airlines Flying To Honolulu International Airport

The closest airport to Pearl Harbor is the Honolulu International Airport (HNL), located less than five miles away. HNL, six miles and ten miles from downtown Honolulu and Waikiki respectively, is the largest airport in the island of O’ahu and the State of Hawaii. It is also the 27th busiest airport in the United States, handling 9,210,270 inbound passengers in 2012.

Currently, there are more than one hundred domestic and international airlines flying into HNL, which manages the traffic with four active runways, including the 12,000-foot long Reef Runway, the world’s first major runway built entirely offshore.

Entry Requirements to Hawaii

U.S. citizens are not required to produce a passport if they are traveling by air to Hawaii, except if they are arriving from outside the United States. However, U.S. citizens are required to produce a passport if they are traveling by ship. In addition, whether citizens are traveling by air or sea, Immigration and/or Customs officials reserve the right to request for a federal or state-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or military ID.

For foreign travelers, it is best to check with your local authorities for information before making travel arrangements.

Money and Spending

Let’s get one thing clear first: O’ahu is one of the most expensive places in the entire United States, especially for outsiders. In fact, the capital Honolulu ranks as the third most expensive city to live in the country, behind only Manhattan and Brooklyn, and ahead of major cities San Francisco and San Jose. To give you a rough idea on what your money is worth there, here’s a random sampling of average product prices in Honolulu:

• Half-gallon of milk: $3.28
• Gallon of gas: $4.244
• Bottle of wine: $8.67
• Movie ticket: $10.35
• Haircut: $15.10
• Monthly rent: $2,646
• Home price: $668,020

While you are strongly discouraged from carrying large amounts of cash on your person, you should have access to your checking account and always carry a credit/debit card or traveler’s checks. Be sure to inquire in advance with your banks, card providers and local merchants on the surcharges and fees for cash withdrawals and purchases.

Traveling To And Around Pearl Harbor

There are three modes of transportation popular in O’ahu: cars (naturally), buses (public, shuttle, and tour) and trolleys (trams). However, before delving into that, let’s get you out of the airport first, yeah?

From the Airport:

The easiest and fastest way out of the airport is by taxi. The management of taxicabs at Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is contracted out to AMPCO Express, which utilizes the Airport’s Open Taxi System. Arriving passengers can find the Taxi Service area near the center median facing the terminal baggage claim area. If in doubt, look out for dispatchers in green shirts with the words “TAXI DISPATCHER” emblazoned upon it. Although meter regulated, taxi rates in O’ahu are quite expensive, and there might be some occasional haggling for long/extremely short rides, especially during peak hours.

Alternatively, you could just hop on ‘TheBus’ service, a city-run island-wide bus service. It entails a little extra walking, and a few minutes longer wait, but at a significantly cheaper rate. Please note that the service hours are between 5:30 a.m. to midnight (subject to change without notice).

Car Rental:

Car rentals in O’ahu are relatively cheap, ranging between $40 and $70. However, you must possess a valid U.S. or international driver’s license and be at least 21 years old. In addition, a credit card is required for rentals.

Outsiders driving in O’ahu must remember to wear seat belts, along with their passengers. Failure to comply will result in a $150 fine. In addition, Hawaii is a no-fault car insurance state, so make sure to purchase Collision Damage Waiver (about $20-$30 a day) when renting a car. Otherwise, in the event of an accident, you are required under the law to pay for all resulting damages before leaving the state.

Try not to drive during peak hours (between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.), as the island is legendary for its traffic jam.


The city operates an island-wide bus service called, wait for it, TheBus. The rate is ridiculously cheap ($2.50 for an island-wide trip), and you can even purchase a Visitors Pass for $25, which will give you unlimited rides for four days. Buses ply most routes from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.

Trolley (Tram):

The city operates an open-air trolley service serving a 12-stop route between Honolulu and Waikiki. The drivers usually provide running commentaries on the various local attractions to tourists. A one-day pass costs between $15 and $25, while a four-day pass is between $20 and $52.

Daylight Saving Time

Hawaii observes the Hawaii–Aleutian Standard Time (HST), UTC/GMT -10 hours. It does not observe daylight saving time.

What should you pack on my trip to Hawaii?

It’s always sunny in Philadel, err, Hawaii, so pack your suitcases with summer attires. For evening wear, dresses (for women) and slacks and shirt (for men) is appropriate. If you plan to stick out like a sore thumb, then, by all means, bring along suits and cocktail dresses.

If you’re from Alaska, don’t worry. You can do your cloth shopping on the island itself, along with a little something called sunscreens. Trust me, you’ll need it. Oh, and a hat would be nice too.


Song of the day: The Beach Boys – Hawaii

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