Remembering Pearl Harbor: Teaching Kids About WWII & Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor

December 8, 2013 2 Comments »


“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

—President Franklin Roosevelt, 12:30 p.m. on December 8, 1941

At the end of his historic Day of Infamy speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan in retaliation for an “unprovoked and dastardly attack” on Pearl Harbor, therefore beginning the United States’ involvement in World War II.

Yesterday marked the 72nd anniversary where more than 2,500 lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor that was carried out in less than two hours.

Located north of Diamond Head and the sandy beaches of Waikiki, and sometimes visible as you fly into the Honolulu Airport, Pearl Harbor was a place where the United States parked battleships as a show of force as Japan made moves to invade territories in the Pacific. Today it stands as a memorial and is an important place to visit because of its historical significance. We recently visited Pearl Harbor and wanted to share tips visit and ways to build background knowledge before you go.

USS Arizona Pearl Harbor Memorial

Things to Know about Visiting Pearl Harbor

Called World War II Valor in the Pacific, this National Monument tells the story of the Pacific War.

Since the National Monument is operated in conjunction with the National Park Service and the United States Navy, security is tight. You cannot bring in any bags. You may carry in bottled water, wallets, wristlets, cameras, or other bags that you cannot fit your hand inside. Other items can be stored at bag storage for a nominal fee that operates like a coat check.

Past security, you’ll be ushered into a line to get free tickets to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, the well known white structure that rises over the hull of the sunken battleship exactly where she was hit in 1941. Since it’s the most popular site to visit, includes a 23 minute documentary, and requires a boat ride to and from, guests line up for tickets before 7 am. Note that tickets do run out during the course of the day so it’s advisable to get there early. We were in line at 6:45 am and secured tickets for 8:30 am. Whether visiting on your own or arranging a tour to take you to Pearl Harbor via bus from Waikiki where a tour leader secures tickets there’s little way to guarantee the time you will be able to visit the USS Arizona Memorial unless you know well in advance when you will be visiting and can secure free timed entry tickets through the site.

Since it’s likely that you’ll have time between when you arrive and when you actually visit the USS Arizona Memorial, take some time to explore the museum and grounds. National Park Service staff will advise you of the time that you need to get in line to enter the theater- generally 15 minutes before your timed ticket. Once you watch the documentary and board the Navy vessel that will take you to the USS Arizona, the mood is somber. If you want the best photos on approach to the memorial, sit on the right side of the boat but know that they want you to disembark quickly, with no stopping for photos upon walking up. There is plenty of time to take photos while inside and when boarding the boat back. Don’t stop. They will remind you to keep moving!

Flag at USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

If you’ve ever visited Arlington National Cemetery, the mood while inside the USS Arizona Memorial is much the same. It’s a place to pay respects honor the men entombed in the ship that sunk in the waters below. Things to note while inside:

  • The large white rectangle rising out of the water on the right side of the monument and bearing the name of the battleship, is where the ship was moored when it was hit. Others with the names of other ships named after states are also easily seen from the memorial.
  • Make your way to the end of the memorial to see the names of those who perished when the USS Arizona sank. The last name at the bottom of the right-most column is the name of a sailor from another ship who was imprisoned for three days when she sank. Or so a National Park Service staff member told us as an interesting bit of trivia!
  • On the left side, you can see the remnants of 1.5 millions of gallons of fuel that still leak from the Arizona’s hull. She was filled on December 6 and the rainbow slick is evidence that she’s still leaking oil today.
  • When you notice that your group is standing to the left side, that means your boat is about to arrive and it’s time to head back to shore.

USS Arizona Fuel Leak

Other Things to See at Pearl Harbor

While there, you’ll also have an option to purchase tickets to visit the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park (a WWII submarine), the Battleship Missouri where the peace treaty with the Japanese was signed thus ending WWII, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. We purchased tickets to the USS Bowfin and Battleship Missouri after securing our tickets to the USS Arizona but because they’re additional fees, you may want to wait. We found that visiting the grounds and museum before seeing the documentary and visiting the USS Arizona provided great background information for our kids (ages 7 and almost 10).

Battleship USS Missouri-Pearl Harbor

Since the Battleship Missouri’s bow stands guard over the sunken USS Arizona, our children were most interested in visiting it and standing on the bow, seeing the gun turrets close up, and learning more about what life was like on a working battleship. You must board a bus to visit Battleship Missouri but they leave every 15 minutes and are just long enough to be refreshed by the air conditioning but not too long that anyone gets overly restless. You can opt for a guided tour of the Battleship Missouri’s deck but we decided that we’d do a self guided tour and listen in on the knowledgeable guides when we felt like it which suited our crew best!

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

After a lunch break (you can purchase food on-site by the USS Bowfin or near the end where you board boats to visit the USS Arizona), we hopped aboard the Bowfin using an audio tour. Audio tours are included in the price of the admission and come in two versions- kid or adult. The kid version includes more sound effects that always makes listening more fun!

Intimidating when surfaced, the inside of submarines are quite small so beware if you suffer from claustrophobia. Narrow quarters mean that there is little room for passing once below, except in the two engine rooms, and know you’ll need to step over thresholds going from room to room. Both of our kids were completely engrossed in the audio tour and loved being able to go at their own pace. We almost skipped the museum but were glad we didn’t because it provided a look at a wealth of artifacts from WWII submarine history and aided in their understanding of subs, their role in the war, and also of the men who serve aboard them.

More detailed information can be found on the Plan Your Visit part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific site. We didn’t visit the Pacific Aviation Museum during our trip. 

Teaching Kids About WW II

Resources for Building Background Knowledge Before Visiting Pearl Harbor

Visiting Pearl Harbor was an incredible experience but before you go, there are many ways to build background knowledge to aid kids in their understanding about the events that were part of Pearl Harbor that led to the start of WWII. Here are some resources that we found helpful before we went and even after since our kids continue to ask questions about the things we saw. Please view these links yourself before turning your kids loose in order to determine if they’re right for them.

Read I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor— As a historical fiction lover, Little Miss Techie got hooked on Scholastic’s I Survived series when reading about the Titanic. Knowing that we were going to visit Pearl Harbor, we loaded this book on her Kindle that she read en route to Oahu. She liked the story which because it was told from the perspective of 11 year old, Danny Crane, who was on a beach when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor and had to find his way home despite the bombs, smoke, and destruction of the day. For just around $4, it’s a great way for tweens to learn about the events through historical fiction.

Learn more at Remembering Pearl Harbor: The USS Arizona Memorial— This site is a treasure trove of material developed by the National Park Service that serves as a good overview before you visit, way to dive into more questions when you return home, or help find answers for research projects. Resources include maps of Hawaii and Japan, Oahu, and Pearl Harbor, charts detailing the losses, including the numbers of individuals on the USS Arizona, historical photographs, and activities designed to for students to synthesize their knowledge, making it a great site for teachers and home schooling parents.

Read 5 Facts about Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona— This information compiled by not only features a stunning, yet haunting aerial photo of the memorial over the USS Arizona’s wreckage but answers questions like why you can see a rainbow oil slick and smell fuel when standing above the ship 72 years later.

Use an interactive mapNational Geographic’s Interactive Pearl Harbor Attack Map features incredible visuals and audio that provide kids with a good sense of the timeline of the events at Pearl Harbor. They can click to listen to audio and zoom in to points on the map plus the script of the audio from the interactive map can also found on this Pearl Harbor timeline which can be helpful when printed so students can follow along, especially when working in small groups or not using a computer.

Visit the Inside WWII interactive site— Much of the world was already at war when the President Roosevelt announced that the United States was joining on December 8. This interactive site by provides a comprehensive view of what was going on around the globe during the war. Kids will enjoy clicking on in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America and the images that come up to learn more through additional photos and text that is well suited for tweens and up. Younger kids can also learn from the site but it’s recommended that they do so with a parent.

Watch Pearl Harbor- The Untold Story— For children with a deeper interest, the 88 minute History Channel Documentary is available on YouTube and provides video footage, photos, and testimonial from historians about what President Roosevelt was doing, feeling, and asking at a time when there wasn’t social media and information wasn’t always ready immediately. I’ve watched this but haven’t shown it to our children yet but I know the format will captivate them.

Read news stories about yesterday’s anniversary— World War II veterans who were serving in Pearl Harbor came back yesterday to honor those who perished 72 years ago and share their stories such as this Associated Press report on Fox News.

For more information about visiting Pearl Harbor, visit the National Park Service site.

Our trip to Pearl Harbor and the I Survived Pearl Harbor book were personally paid for. All opinions are my own and based on the experience of my family. Amazon affiliate link included for the I Survived books. 

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