What To Read and Watch Before Visiting Pearl Harbor
Though the attack on Pearl Harbor only lasted about two hours, the number of books and other writings, TV shows, and movies about the events of December 7, 1941 is extensive and varied. The experiences of a sailor who just barely survived the sinking of USS Oklahoma will be vastly different from those of the men manning the radar station just minutes before the assault started. As you’re preparing for your Pearl Harbor tour, it's worth seeing just how extensive the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor really is.
There is a lot of information you could sift through, to put it mildly. While it can be tempting to immerse yourself in as much Pearl Harbor history as possible, when it comes to getting yourself ready for your tour, it may be best to stick to a few essentials.
The following recommendations will provide a good amount of background knowledge about the surprise Japanese attack to get you prepared before visiting Pearl Harbor.
The Other Side of Infamy: My Journey through Pearl Harbor and the World of War
Written by Jim Downing
Before his passing in February 2018, Jim Downing was one of the best-known of the Pearl Harbor survivors. As the second-oldest living survivor, his was a name that circulated often, especially when he released his book, The Other Side of Infamy, and broke the world record for oldest living male author to publish a book.
The Other Side of Infamy recounts the former lieutenant’s experiences in World War II, starting with the fateful day of the attack, when he was serving aboard USS West Virginia (BB-48). It was one of the battleships that were sunk that morning, though she was later raised, repaired, and returned to service. By that time, however, Downing had transferred to a different ship.
Downing’s account of the Pearl Harbor attack is as haunting as they come. Even after reaching the age of 100, the veteran had no difficulty recalling the events of that day, sometimes in frightening detail. In addition, he explores how his wartime experience shaped his life story. The book is a memoir of his life, and his details about the Pearl Harbor attack add a profoundly human dimension to the history of Pearl Harbor and the War in the Pacific.
"Into the Arizona"
Produced by PBS
One of the most iconic sites at Pearl Harbor is the USS Arizona Memorial, dedicated to the 1177 men who lost their lives when their ship exploded and sank during the attack. Beneath the memorial rests the rusted hulk of the ship. While the outlines of Arizona are visible from the surface, this PBS documentary provides viewers with an opportunity to navigate inside the sunken vessel.
"Into the Arizona" provides an extensive look into the ship that most people would otherwise never see. Though streaming the film requires a subscription, it’s well worth it for this incredible chance at seeing inside the ruined hull of the battleship.
Be sure to check out the accompanying clips, including the emotional return of USS Arizona survivor Donald Stratton to Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor Survivor Stories
US National Park Service
The National Park Service is responsible for overseeing the operations of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, so it makes sense that their website would include plenty of historical information about the attack.
One of its more poignant sections is a series of survivor stories, brief bios of some of the survivors of that morning. From Joe George, the hero who disobeyed orders and saved six USS Arizona crewmen, to civilians who you won’t likely find in history books, the survivor stories are among the best ways of connecting to the events of December 7, 1941.
Even with the book, the PBS documentary, and the survivor stories under your belt, there is still so much Pearl Harbor history to experience - and nothing can replace seeing it first hand.