The Mighty Mo, also known as the USS Missouri.
The Mighty Mo, also known as the USS Missouri.
On my last diary page, I mentioned that this long late-summer trip was just meant to be. One of those hints came shortly after we arrived at the World War II Memorials at Pearl Harbor.

We had taken a chance on being able to go out to the USS Arizona Memorial. It is reported that 1.6 million people visit the Pearl Harbor sites each year, and we had been advised to get our tickets in advance, online at the government website. I tried, but it was already totally sold out. Because we planned to fly from Maui to Honolulu just to visit those memorials, we were unsure of the wisdom of doing that only to find out we wouldn't be able to get tickets at the door. But we finally decided that even if we did not get to go out to the Arizona, we would be able to see everything else at this unique area.

Up at 4 a.m., we drove in the dark and pouring rain to get to the Maui airport for an oh-dark-hundred flight. Fortunately that was the end of the rain for the day, because the weather at Oahu was simply sunshine. Well, to be honest, by mid-afternoon it was pretty hot. But it was not raining.

Everything went right - another sign that we were supposed to be there - and we were at Pearl Harbor by 7:15. Like magic, there was plenty of parking for our rental car, and no line yet at the ticket office. With our tickets in hand for the 10 a.m. trip out to the Arizona, we had time for the audio tour of the World War II era USS Bowfin submarine. Just as we crossed on the gangplank to the sub, a beautiful full rainbow appeared overhead, its arch perfectly framing the ship. It was a great welcome aboard.

We had about 18 minutes to wait for our 10 o'clock start on the Arizona, and had just sat down to rest when the attendant announced he had a few seats left with the 9:45 group, so off we went. This memorial has been described as "one of the most significant WWII sites" and is only reachable by boat. Because of the need to get on with recovering from the Pearl Harbor attack and preparing for war, the decision was made to leave the servicemen who died on board entombed in its hull, buried at sea.

It is a Navy tradition that when its sailors are buried at sea, they are forever on duty, standing watch. The names of the Arizona crew still on board the ship are engraved on a marble wall. On a smaller plaque are names of crewmen who survived the attack but have died since and have also been buried at the Memorial. Visitors are asked to maintain "a respectful silence" when in this chamber at the Memorial. I was disappointed that many, if not most, of the people in our group did not observe this request.

Parts of the ship are visible in the waters and below the Memorial, built across the center of the sunken Arizona. It is estimated that the ship is still leaking oil at a rate of about a quart a day. Looking over the side, the drops of oil in the form of small round black drops can be seen; those are now said to be "black tears." Some of them break when they reach the surface, spreading into a rainbow-colored slick on the water.

The museums onshore are all well done and fascinating. Experiences and observations of the attack from many local people are included; there is a suggestion that the attack may not have been as big a surprise to the local population as it had been to the military.

The shuttle over to the site of the Battleship Missouri gave us a chance to eat a lunch on the dock before boarding the huge ship. It was a good thing we did, because we were in for a lot of walking, climbing and going backward down steep ladders.

The length of that ship is about three football fields, a little over 887 feet; the width is 108-plus feet and the height is a towering 209 feet and eight inches.

While not all decks or quarters were open to the public, there was enough to test endurance. We made it to all of the decks that were available, including the main deck and the second deck, which is below the main deck. We also climbed up, from 01 level to 05 level. We were surprised that not a lot of the visitors were finding some of the more out-of-the-way spots such as crew break rooms, where we could now sit and watch informational videos. Those were a bonus to what we were learning about the ship's story after World War II.

But apparently everyone goes up to the Surrender Deck where General MacArthur, the Japanese foreign minister, and representatives of the other allies signed the surrender that ended World War II. It is significant that it is docked in a position directly in line with the off-shore Arizona memorial, signifying the beginning and the end of World War II: Pearl Harbor where it began, and the surrender on board the Mighty Mo.

It was a long day, but it was worth the whole trip to Hawaii. On the flight home, there was a father and daughter returning from visiting Pearl Harbor. He was a veteran of that war; the daughter was explaining that they were now on their way to Washington, D.C., to the WWII Memorial there. "We do this every year," she said.

What a great way to say thank you to a vet.