Excursion review with Polynesian Adventure Tours
I questioned for some time as to whether I should write a blog about our visit to Pearl Harbor because something didn’t sit completely comfortably about ‘enjoying’ a trip to a place which had seen such tragedy and loss of life, but also nothing which I put down in words of pictures can ever portray what I felt & experienced inwardly by being there.
However there are two main factors which inspired me to still write this.
1) The words of our tour guide Ron (himself a veteran) who said “it’s important for the younger generations to learn and understand this history because they are the ones who will ensure it’s never repeated”
2) When we arrived home at our apartment at the end of a very long day Cameron said to me whilst he was getting ready for bed “I hope one day that I can tell my own children all about Pearl Harbor”. That for me was enough to reaffirm the importance of the day, it’s significance and the understanding that at the age of just 7 he already wanted to pass this story down to the next generation. I therefore write this in the hope that one day this may help him recall that very special day where he stood in places where world history was made.
Now before I start I just want to say that whilst I know some of my U.K. readers will pick me up for not spelling HARBOUR the British way, I deliberately decided to use the american spelling for this blog because ‘Pearl Harbor’ is the spelling at the place which matters and which was and is etched into the lives of all those who served and still serve at this monumental Naval Station.
When I booked to come to Maui about 9 months ago, I knew if I was in Hawaii I couldn’t come this far and NOT visit Pearl Harbor. However when I looked up the price to fly over to Ohau and do the tour it was going to cost over £600 for both Cameron and I to do it. That’s a LOT of money to pay out for a 1 day excursion and especially when you are tightly budgeting for every single moment. However I did understand its importance and therefore ensured I kept enough back in my savings account to cover it.
Despite the cost I have to say that it truly was worth every single penny and now we have been, I hate the prospect that we could have been in Hawaii and not bothered going.
Once we arrived in Maui I booked the tour with Polynesian Adventure Tours just a few days in advance as I firstly wanted to get here and check out the weather forecast!
We had an early start to the day as we had to be at Maui airport for 6am. There we were met & greeted by a wonderful gentleman by the name of George who issued us our tickets, gave us instructions of where to meet our guide in Honolulu and sent us off through security for our flight with Hawaiian Airlines.
It is just a 22 minute flight between the Islands of Maui to Ohau, no sooner had we levelled off at 13,000ft then it was time to begin our descent!
On arrival into Honolulu airport we were met by our guide for the day ‘Captain Ron’ . A former air force veteran himself, he was originally from Indiana but had served at Hickham (The U.S. Air Force base joined to Pearl Harbor) for 4 years and had later decided to make the island of Ohau his home, which it has now been for the last 50 years.
Captain Ron’s comments within his introduction to our group were ” I don’t promise to be the best driver or the best tour guide, but I do promise to give you the best possible experience today that I can” No truer word was spoke because that is absolutely what he did (and he was a great driver and one of the best tour guides we have ever experienced too!!)
Pearl Harbor is only about a 10 minute drive from the airport so we were there in no time. Security is tight as you can imagine so any bags larger than a small purse HAVE to be checked in, you cannot leave them on the bus and this cost $5.
I am always a little vary of what to expect and how to feel at places like this. I can’t help but sometimes feel a little guilty of ‘tragedy tourism’ despite wanting to know and comprehend the history and magnitude of it all.
The first thing which hit me was the tranquility and beauty of the harbor; warm soft air, tall palm trees swaying in the breeze, clear blue waters, and despite there being a fair number of people around there was still a sense of stillness and tranquility. How could such a horrific event have taken place is such a scenic and beautiful place? When we looked across the clear blue waters of the harbor towards the Arizona Memorial it was quite simply impossible to truly picture 100’s of young men, many in their late teens and early 20’s swimming through the burning oil on the surface, desperately fighting for their lives and the lives of their comrades.
The other thing which quickly struck me were ‘names’ – there were plaques everywhere with lists & lists of names. Names of so many people who had died; military and civilians; 2400 of them who perished in the Pearl Harbor attacks and the 1000’s of others who died aboard other ships over the remaining 4 years of World War II. Each name = a person, a person with a story, a person which a family; a son, brother, husband, lover & father. For every person who died, so many more had their lives changed forever.
After we had toured the outside memorials and museum we made our way to the theatre for a 15 minute screening on the events leading up to and the attacks on 7th December 1941. The film included some actual footage of the attacks and once again it was hard to comprehend that the exact place which we were sitting was the same place we were watching in those scenes of atrocity.
Once the film was over we were led outside and onto a boat which took us out to the Arizona memorial. Unfortunately the memorial itself has been closed for the past year due to safety issues so you cannot actually go on it. However just being that close to the memorial and seeing parts of the Arizona poking just above the water line and knowing that below the surface so many brave young men still lay entombed in their watery grave is intensely moving and emotional. The feeling is not something which I can ever convey in words. The average age of those aboard who died was just 20 – younger than my own daughter.
Once we were back onshore, we re-boarded the bus and Ron drove us across the Harbor to the USS Missouri. Ron himself had been a guide on the Missouri for many years and so was a fountain of knowledge, although because no longer employed there he was not able to personally guide us around the ship. Instead we were welcomed by a lovely little lady ‘Dom’ was to be our tour guide for around half an hour before we were left to explore the rest of the ship in our own time.
I learnt so much that day and it was quite surreal for Cameron and I to be stood on the exact spot of that battleship where the surrender ceremony took place and where the documents were signed which officially ended the second war war whilst the USS Missouri was at anchor in Tokyo Bay in 1945.
I am wasn’t sure if Cameron really understood the magnitude of it all until we got back that evening and he made the comment about wanting to bring take his own children to Pearl Harbor one day – Yes, even at the age of just 7 he understood its importance perfectly.
As he stood there on the deck where the surrender ceremony took place it was a strange irony to think that my Mum was exactly the same age as him, just 7 years old on the day those documents were signed and finally the world was at peace.
Our excursion continued later in the afternoon as Ron drove us on a tour around Honolulu, the National Pacific Memorial Cemetery and dinner at Waikiki Beach before we were driven back to Honolulu airport for our evening return flight to Maui.
There are certain moments which define history; the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941 and the signing of the surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri on 2nd September 1945 were two such monumental moments for very different reasons. For Cameron and I visiting both sites last week was a history lesson we shall never ever forget. It was a moment where we not only touched history but where we were touched by history.
Cameron with serving military personnel aboard the USS Missouri
Finally: I know I have included several photo within the blog anyway, but if you would like to see the short video we put together of the day, then please click here