USS Bowfin – 75 Years, 9 Million Visitors Later


By: Mark Loproto

In late April, 2018, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park welcomed its nine millionth visitor, a milestone that proves the world hasn’t forgotten the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that followed. Guest number nine million was part of a family who came all the way from Australia, and the milestone was celebrated with a lei, cake and other festivities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pearl Harbor Avenger

One year to the day after the United States was devastated by a Japanese aerial striking force, the US Navy launched a new Balao-class submarine, the USS Bowfin (SS-287). Dubbed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” Bowfin was a symbol of the American spirit and refusal to give up, even in the face of heavy loss. The nation had suffered a crippling blow a year earlier, losing more than 2,400 servicemen and civilians in an attack that took under two hours to carry out.

USS Bowfin (SS-287) returns from patrol

USS Bowfin (SS-287) returns from patrol

Formally commissioned into service on May 1, 1943, the USS Bowfin served in two conflicts, World War II and the Korean War, and was decommissioned twice before finally being struck from the Naval Vessel Register on December 1, 1971.

An Active Retirement

After being acquired by the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association in 1979, Bowfin was brought to Pearl Harbor to become a permanent fixture open to the public.

Unlike the memorials dedicated to the men lost on the USS Arizona (BB-39) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37), the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is a broad educational experience providing a look into the history of underwater warfare. Submarines played a large part during World War II, and Bowfin was one of the most successful.

The Pearl Harbor Avenger Comes Home

World War II Submarine Memorial overlooking the Bowfin

World War II Submarine Memorial overlooking the Bowfin

Opened to the public on April 1, 1981, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is a valuable resource for information on the submarines of World War II, complete with a library filled with in-depth analysis and artifacts pulled from both Bowfin and other American submarines.

Turning Bowfin into a visitor-friendly tourist destination didn’t happen overnight. The Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association (PFSMA) acquired the vessel in 1979, thanks to an act of Congress passed on Aug. 10, 1956. Under the act, the Secretary of the Navy could transfer obsolete vessels to a non-profit organization under the promise of continued restoration and preservation.

Once in the possession of the PFSMA, Bowfin was first towed to Pier 39 in Honolulu, and later to her permanent home at Pearl Harbor, adjacent to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. This is where she stands today, a fitting addition to the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites despite having no direct connection to the attack. Five years after moving to Pearl Harbor, Bowfin was declared a National Historic Landmark.

The Exhibits of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

Artifacts on display for visitors to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

Artifacts on display at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park

Today, the museum houses an extensive collection of submarine memorabilia, and visitors to the USS Bowfin over age four can even get a look inside the Pearl Harbor Avenger herself. Artifacts in the museum and on the grounds surrounding it include the bells of the USS Bowfin and four other submarines, battle flags from various World War II-era submarines, the conning tower from USS Parche (SS-384), a Poseidon C-3 missile mock-up, and a waterfront memorial to the 52 submarines and over 3,500 men lost in World War II.

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