Pearl Harbor wasn’t always the important hub of the United States military presence in the Pacific. In fact, it wasn’t always a harbor! Long ago it was called Pu’uloa and was considered the home of the Hawaiian shark goddess Ka’ahupahau, a friendly god whom the people of Ewa believed protected them and guarded the ancient fish ponds. Another name for it was Wai Momi, meaning “water of pearls” because pearl producing oysters used to thrive in these waters. However, due to a coral bar obstructing the entrance, it was not a place considered suitable for a harbor. Times change, the oyster beds gradually died off and, in 1877, the United States obtained rights to Pearl Harbor through a treaty with Hawaii (it was not yet a state). When Hawaii was annexed by the United States, work began on dredging the channel and creating the harbor we see today. It became a naval base in 1908 and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Over the years, Pearl Harbor continued to grow as a military presence in the pacific, but the decision to base the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor proved to be an almost disastrous move. World War II was in process, tensions were high, and we all know the story of what happened on the fateful day of December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor became the target of Japan’s infamous surprise attack. Here are some of the statistics from that moment in time:
- 19 U.S. warships were lost
- 8 battleships were attacked and 4 were sunk
- 2,403 American men, women, and children were killed
- 1,177 were service personnel aboard the U.S.S. Arizona
- 1,178 Americans were wounded
- 188 American aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged
- Japan began the attack with 33 warships and 373 aircraft
- Japan lost 5 midget submarines and 29 aircraft
- 64 Japanese service personnel were killed
- 15 American service personnel were presented with the
Medal of Honor, but only 5 were alive to accept it
- Total time of the attack was just over 2 hours
There were also many buildings destroyed and it was not just the harbor that was attacked. It was, needless to say, a devastating, history-changing event that was, in the words of then President Franklin Roosevelt, “a day that will live in infamy”.
That was then and this is now. Today many who come to Hawaii, from all parts of the globe, visit Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Utah memorials. There are also memorials in downtown Honolulu, out on the North Shore, and at Punchbowl, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, that pay tribute to those who lost their lives in defense of our country during this World War, which we entered after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Those who died represented the many ethnic groups present in Hawaii, from Japanese Americans to Chinese Americans, service personnel with Filipino ancestry to Hawaiian ancestry, and more. Today Japan is a strong ally of the United States and it remains an economic and world power.
December 7th has been designated Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and all American flags are flown at half-mast on this day, in honor of those who lost their lives. Pearl Harbor has gone from the Wai Momi of old to the National Memorial of today. It is an historic landmark on Oahu which is definitely worth a visit!