Three of the four museums and memorials in Pearl Harbor — including the USS Arizona Memorial, one of the most visited attractions in the state — are headed toward name changes to better define their mission and to improve fundraising.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Nov. 13 removing the Arizona Memorial from the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which comprises sites in three states, and establishing it separately as the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
H.R. 5706 also would rebrand the wartime internment camp Honouliuli National Monument on Oahu as Honouliuli National Historic Site.
According to the National Park Service, 1.95 million people visited the Arizona Memorial in 2017, just under the 2 million who stopped at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
“Pearl Harbor is a physical representation of the day that will live in infamy, the strides made in U.S.-Japan relations, and the U.S. entry into World War II,” said U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii, who sponsored the World War II Pacific Sites Establishment Act, in her comments from the House floor before passage. “This historic site deserves a name to match its separate identity and significance from the rest of the monument.”
Also supporting the name change was Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who said establishing the Pearl Harbor National Memorial as a distinct unit would give it “the full recognition this hallowed site deserves.”
The sunken USS Arizona, a grave for over 900 men who died in a fiery explosion on Dec. 7, 1941, during Japan’s surprise attack, was added in 2008 to the newly created World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument by President George W. Bush.
Nine sites make up the monument. Among those at Pearl Harbor are the Arizona and its visitor center, the sunken USS Utah and the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
Three of the Valor in the Pacific sites are in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Also part of the monument is the Tule Lake Segregation Center in California used to imprison Japanese Americans as the result of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
“Many Americans valiantly supported the war effort even as they struggled for their own civil rights,” Bush’s proclamation for the monument stated.
But in practice, the designation became confusing. The National Park Service mainly highlights the Arizona Memorial, which it oversees, on its Valor in the Pacific website.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Aleutian Islands sites, while the Park and Fish and Wildlife services co-manage the Tule Lake unit.
Under H.R. 5706, the National Park Service would continue oversight of the historic sites at Pearl Harbor.
Hanabusa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Pacific Historic Parks, a nonprofit established to aid the Arizona Memorial and other sites, related to her the complications of trying to raise money for Pearl Harbor under the name World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
“What they have said is that a lot of fundraising has been difficult for Pearl Harbor,” Hanabusa said in a phone interview.
Instinctively, “a lot of us feel that a ‘monument’ must be a better designation. But in actuality, in terms of a (congressional) line item and things like that, it really is better to have your own historic site designation.”
The fundraising logic also applies to Honouliuli, the largest and longest-used confinement site during World War II, holding 400 internees who were mostly Japanese-Americans as well as 4,000 prisoners of war. President Barack Obama designated the site as a national monument in 2015.
As a national historic site, Honouliuli would be better recognized by Congress, said Hanabusa, whose grandfather was interned there. A monument “is kind of a unilateral act on the part of the president by proclamation,” she said. “Whereas when you designate a historic site, it is an act of Congress.”
The legislation still needs Senate approval and President Donald Trump’s signature before becoming law.
The National Park Service said it is hesitant about commenting on pending legislation, which could be construed as a prohibited form of lobbying Congress. “If Congress requests the NPS to provide testimony on the bill, the agency’s position will be entered in the public congressional record at that time,” the agency said.
Already in the works are name changes for the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park at Pearl Harbor, which is launching a $20 million renovation, and the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island.
The Bowfin museum is named after the sub that was launched Dec. 7, 1942, exactly one year after the Pearl Harbor attack and nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”
Chuck Merkel, the Bowfin’s executive director, said a rebranding aimed at better name recognition will result in the museum becoming the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum.
“Kind of the reason behind it is, nobody really knows what a Bowfin is, right?” said the retired Navy captain. “The Bowfin will always be the centerpiece of our experience here. But we’re telling the story of all World War II submariners, the Cold War, and then we’re looking to the future with our expansion in the museum.”
The renovation is expected to start in January with an eventual expansion planned for the museum building. Merkel said the Bowfin submarine will be open for tours throughout the work.
The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, meanwhile, changed its name to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum with the nonprofit seeking to emphasize its Dec. 7 roots as part of an American battlefield, including the history of its hangars and distinctive orange and white control tower.
The fourth museum in Pearl Harbor, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, does not plan to change its name.