POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 7, 2010
More than two centuries ago, King Kamehameha treasured the pearls from Wai Momi, the Hawaiian name for the harbor we now call Pearl. Back in 1812, unauthorized oyster harvesting was punishable by death. Years would pass and the rains washed tons of silt into the harbor and soon the oysters and nearly everything else were choked out.
At 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, quiet Pearl Harbor, the home of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, would erupt in gunfire, misery, pain and death.
Perhaps no single incident in American history has been written about more than the events of that day in 1941 when aircraft from the Japanese Navy attacked the rows of ships and fighter planes in and around Pearl Harbor. In a few hours, the Japanese had sunk 11 ships, including four battleships, destroyed 188 aircraft, and caused the deaths of 2,402 people with another 1,282 wounded.
Less than four years later, the world witnessed the end of the war on the deck of the USS Missouri.
This year marks 65 years since the end of World War II. Although the oyster pearls are long gone, in its place are pearls of another kind. These treasured pearls of today are right in our midst: the memorials and museums of the Pearl Harbor historic sites.
These sites carry forth the legacies of our nation's most treasured icons. These enduring tributes resemble the valor and sacrifices of our veterans when the future of our nation and the world truly hung in the balance.
» Pearl No. 1: The USS Arizona Memorial was built and dedicated on Memorial Day 1962. On Feb. 16, 2010, the first phase of the new visitor center was blessed. We'll celebrate today the grand reopening of the visitor center with completion of the second phase.
The National Park Service manages the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes, among other sites, the visitor center, the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Oklahoma Memorial, which was dedicated on Dec. 7, 2007.
» Pearl No. 2: The USS Bowfin was nicknamed the "Pearl Harbor Avenger" since she was launched on Dec. 7, 1942, a year after that fateful day. The USS Bowfin officially began her new career as a "museum ship" on April 1, 1981, and today, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park's mission is to preserve the famous submarine and to display submarine-related artifacts.
» Pearl No. 3: The USS Missouri or "Mighty Mo" has served her nation with honor and distinction through three wars, beginning with World War II and ending with Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In 1998, she traveled to Hawaii and today, as the Battleship Missouri Memorial, stands as an international icon of strength and freedom.
» Pearl No. 4: The Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor, which opened to the public on Dec. 7, 2006, highlights the magnificent aviation history in the Pacific. It occupies the World War II hangars and the famous control tower, which still bears the scars of our nation's first aviation battlefield.
» Pearl No. 5: What was commonly known as the Pearl Harbor bike path is now the Pearl Harbor Historic Trail, which follows the harbor's shores and continues westward to Nanakuli. It provides an outstanding recreational network while stimulating economic activity in the surrounding communities.
In 2005, each site worked independently of one another; some would say they competed against each other for the precious tourists' dollars. Today, right as you enter the gates to the newly opened visitor center, there is a ticket counter for the USS Arizona Memorial. To its right is the newly established joint ticketing counter, where people can buy tickets to one or all of the other sites. This is a true partnership, one that recognizes the benefits of the combined strength of all.
A few months ago, my children and I stood looking out onto Pearl Harbor. We saw what the nearly 2 million visitors each year see: The pearls of old Hawaii have been polished and transformed into a lei of historic gems, the Pearl Harbor historic sites.
K. Mark Takai is a 16-year veteran of the state House, representing Aiea and Pearl City on the shores of historic Pearl Harbor. He is also chairman of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Task Force.