A Day In Hawaii
Hawaii. Our first stop on American soil, and our last stop before ending the voyage in San Diego. On our nine day stretch between Kobe, Japan, and Honolulu, Hawaii, it was clear that most people had found their sea legs. A majority of this crossing was rocky, roughly the same as the English Channel in September. But rather than having half the ship lay in bed sick, there were very few who got sick this time. I guess these are the changes after living three months on a ship.
Crossing the Pacific is a long one. Nine days at sea until Hawaii, one day in Hawaii, and then six days at sea until San Diego. So more than anything in Hawaii, people were simply excited to get off the ship. To get off the ship in Hawaii, all passengers were required to be on a Semester at Sea Field Program. Most of them involved some sort of outdoor activity – hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, etc. However, the one that caught my eye was a day at Pearl Harbor to visit the memorials and museums. I figured that I could hike, bike, and kayak in many different places around the world, but there is only one Pearl Harbor. Plus, with just one day, I certainly wanted to learn about the most historic event that has taken place in Hawaii in recent history. I actually visited Pearl Harbor in 1991 on a family holiday trip to Hawaii with my grandparents, aunt and uncle, cousins, and immediate family. However, being four years old at the time, I imagined that my experience as a 30 year old would be different.
As per usual, we woke up and went out to the bow early in the morning, around 6:30AM, to watch us come into the port. The sun was just beginning to rise, illuminating the city of Honolulu and the mountains towering behind. As we got close to the port, we saw a humpback whale just off the left side of the ship for a moment. At around 8AM, we were docked and the crew was working on clearing the ship for the field programs to depart.
At 10AM, my group was called to depart the ship and make our way to the bus. Our first stop was the Pearl Harbor national memorial, an area that encompasses memorials and museums on land, as well as the USS Arizona Memorial which requires a boat ride to visit. We saw a 25-minute video explaining the lead-up to the attacks at Pearl Harbor, what took place here, and the aftermath. Here is my detailed summation of what took place (with many details I had never learned prior to this visit):
When the Japanese continued their conquest of Southeast Asian countries, the United States began to build up their military front in Hawaii, their closest naval base to Asia in the Pacific. In 1941, still not yet in the war, the United States stationed hundreds of aircraft and over 80 ships here in Pearl Harbor, including aircraft carriers, destroyers, and battleships. This was the strongest position of the US Navy at the time, all in anticipation of the what-ifs of the ongoing World War. The Japanese Empire had no intentions of stopping their takeover of Asia, so they decided to be proactive about this next superpower who was having internal debates over whether to join the war or not. The Japanese decided to strike first with the intention of taking the US completely out of the war before they could even enter the war.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is certainly well known to be a sneak attack – a bombardment on an unexpected party. In international standards, it is completely unethical to attack a country without already having declared war on this country. It turns out that the Japanese planned to declare war that same morning, but the message did not reach the United States leadership in time. This is a part of the story that I had never heard, and it’s something that is worth telling.
The Japanese Ambassador to the United States was tasked with the duty of drafting up a declaration of war, and he was to deliver this message to his American counterparts in Washington DC. There was one issue; he was tasked with this duty last-minute, and he was a terrible typist. The ambassador had set up a meeting with the Americans for 1PM Washington DC time, around 8AM Hawaii time. This would take place right at the same time the first bombs were to be dropped in Pearl Harbor. This be a win-win for the Japanese: they have their sneak attack and they save face by having already declared war. Well, this letter did not make it to the United States authorities in time.
This had one major implication that probably changed the entire outcome of WWII. The Japanese planned three waves of attacks on Pearl Harbor to completely knock out the military. The first two involved major attacks with airstrikes with bombs raining down. The third wave would be submarines and attacking ships to destroy whatever was left at Pearl Harbor. Well, after the Japanese found out that their declaration of war never made it, they did their best to save face, and they decided to hold off on the third wave of attacks. The ships retreated, and they headed back across the Pacific to Japan. According to an Admiral who lived through Pearl Harbor, had this third wave taken place, the United States military would have been knocked out of the war for several years before being able to rebuild their military might. Instead, the United States rebounded quickly. Not only were 18 of the 21 sunken ships repaired and put back into service, but the American people united and patriotism was sky-high. The United States, of course, then entered the war, which ended almost four years later with the dropping of the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This tiny little detail, the slow Japanese typist, impacted the entire course of the war and our history.
Over 2,400 people were killed in those brutal attacks at Pearl Harbor. 21 ships were sunk, and almost 200 aircraft were destroyed. The single largest area of casualties was on the USS Arizona, which exploded when a shell hit its magazine. This explosion killed almost 1,200 crewmen on board, about half the lives lost during the attacks on that day. The USS Arizona is still underwater, and there is a memorial resting over the ship to honor and remember those who we lost during those attacks. The sunken ship still holds about 900 bodies, so this is the final resting place of those crewmen.
The USS Arizona Memorial is accessible by boat, which transfer about 75 people every 15 minutes. The memorial looks like a white bridge resting over the USS Arizona. Inside, there is a memorial wall which lists the names of each of the servicemen and servicewomen who died on the ship during these attacks. Looking down into the water, you can see the top of the ship which has now been integrated into the underwater natural habitat. It has become the home to fish, algae, and more. The most striking part to me was to see pools of oil that floated above parts of the ship. The small bits of oil changed colors in the reflecting sun, producing the colors of the rainbow. About 9 quarts of oil are released from the ship every single day; even 76 years later, oil is still leaking onto the surface of the water.
Visiting Pearl Harbor gave me a whole new understanding of the events that took place as well as the impact on American history. I am grateful to be able to visit these historic sites that have shaped our country, and I look forward to using this knowledge to tell this story on my future tours as a Tour Director.
Our second stop on the field program was the USS Missouri, the battleship turned museum, located just a stone’s throw from the USS Arizona on Ford Island. The USS Missouri was commissioned in 1944, towards the end of WWII, and it was in combat in the Pacific in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, among others, and in the Korean War, and in Desert Storm. The battleship is over 800 feet long, just over 100 feet wide, and at its tallest point is as tall as a 20-story building. It was a key part of the Navy fleet in the 1940s and 1950s. It may be most known for being the site of the Japanese Empire’s surrender to end WWII.
Our Tour Guide was Thomas, a 19-year-old who spoke 200 words a minute and had a hint of a southern accent. While he spoke quickly, he had an incredible amount of knowledge about the ship and its history, so I was hanging on to every word. He explained everything from the process of loading and firing the guns, to each of the battles the ship fought in, all the way down to the details of what type of material the deck is made of. He was great.
The most remarkable spot on the ship was the starboard side of the ship on the outer deck. This is the exact place where the Japanese Foreign Minister and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur both singed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay. The 23-minute surrender ceremony ended the bloodiest war in world history, in which over 60 million people were killed. General MacArthur opened the ceremony by stating, “It is my earnest hope—indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.” In this exact spot on the USS Missouri, this is where the war ended. Not knowing too much about the USS Missouri before coming here, To be standing here, and to see the image of the ceremony posted on the wall, it all felt a bit surreal. It was a fantastic experience to tour this ship!
Our last stop for the day was a crowd favorite, free time at Waikiki Beach. Our group had about two hours to spend here to eat, shop, or relax on the beach. I didn’t know exactly what to expect with Waikiki Beach, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. While the main street is a lot of high-end shopping and nice hotels, the beach was lovely. I really liked how the beach, at least at this part, was not one long strip of sand. Instead, it was a beach made of curved inlets, making it feel more quaint. The palm trees hugged the sandy beach, and the turquoise waters were perfect for people to swim, surf, and paddle. To watch the sunset over the Pacific seemed like the appropriate last activity on this voyage.
Now, it’s six days at sea until San Diego, our final destination.