It’s easy to be caught up in the sun, sand, and surf of Hawaii, but the islands are also rich in military history and sites. Although it can be sobering and painful to think about, these military sites deserve a spot on any must-see list.
Next time you’re on Oahu, take a beach break and work some of these spots into your schedule:
Pearl Harbor: This site is administered by the National Park System, and in my book is the must-see historical site on the island. It’s an easy drive from Waikiki, about 45 minutes, and is also served by public transportation. If you’d prefer a tour, it’s a stop on many of them. The tour includes a brief video, followed by a boat ride to the Arizona Memorial. Like most visitors to the site, I was profoundly touched and moved by the experience. Appropriate attire is required; no bathing suits, short shorts, or inappropriate t-shirts. Members of the military should wear dress uniforms. And turn your cell phones off. There is no admission charge.
Punchbowl: Officially the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, this reverent site is the final resting place for veterans of both World Wars as well as Korea and Vietnam. Courts of the Missing are especially somber, as these marble slabs list the name of military personnel who were lost or buried at sea or who were missing in action. The cemetery is open daily and there is no admission charge. The site is reachable by car or on one of many tours.
Pacific Aviation Museum: This museum on Ford Island chronicles the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor with original film and photos, and includes a tour of Hangars 37 and 49. Aviation buffs will love the collection of US and Japanese aircraft. Tickets used to take a lot of effort, but are now much easier. This is a great option for aviation buffs.
Battleship Missouri Monument: The Mighty Mo has a history filled with stories starting with World War II, and continuing through right up to Operation Desert Storm. The site now offers multi-media tours, combining footage and narration from some of the men who served on board this ship, giving a realistic feel for what life must have been like.