2,403 people — soldiers, sailors, and civilians alike — died when Japanese strike forces attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Over 1,000 more were injured in the surprise attack.
21 years later, the USS Arizona Memorial — built over top of but not touching the sunken remains of the U.S. battleship of the same name — was built, honoring the 1,177 sailors and Marines who went down with their ship.
Thousands of grateful Americans visit the memorial site every year, some taking just a few moments out of a tropical vacation to remember the date that truly has lived “in infamy.”
The museum itself is fairly unassuming. Visitors follow a concrete path to a transport ferry, passing by plaques and all-weather exhibits that tell the story of the attack.
And as you move along that path, you might hear other visitors talking — about their trips, about the exhibits, or about the beautiful scenery.
And it truly is a beautiful backdrop.
But then the ferry comes, and in a matter of just a few minutes, the memorial is rising out of the water in front of you.
From the walkway, the tour guides point out the actual resting place of the USS Arizona.
They point out the ruptured bunkers that, to this day, are slowly leaking oil into the harbor.
And then all is silent as you enter the memorial. Conversations halt mid-sentence. Everyone present appears to suddenly feel the impact of the sacrifice made just below their feet — by men and women they never knew — on their behalf.
The only light is natural, streaming through asymmetrically shaped cut-outs on the wall.
And the sunlight illuminates one wall, covered from ceiling to floor with the names of those who gave their lives that day.
But off to the side — and dwarfed by the wall behind it — is a small altar that could easily go unnoticed. Also covered with names, this altar is dedicated to those who survived that terrible day, but chose later to be laid to rest among their fallen brothers-in-arms.
As you silently leave the memorial, you throw one last glance over your shoulder. And there is the one thing that they all lived — and died — to serve.