Hands-On with History


By: Mark Loproto

We all absorb information in different ways. Some can read through pages of textbooks and come away with a wealth of new knowledge. Others may require visual or audio aids. Then there are those who respond best to interactive exhibits and displays. The ability to get hands-on with history is an effective means of becoming knowledgeable with events that unfolded generations ago. In the case of Pearl Harbor, there are lots of physical reminders of the December 7, 1941 attack. Much of what’s on display is behind glass or protected in some way to help safeguard them for future generations of visitors.

However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing at Pearl Harbor to interact with. If it’s hands-on you want, there are a variety of different things you can actually touch and engage and each focuses on a different aspect of the Pearl Harbor attack.

When it comes to interacting with the past, the following sites, exhibits, and more are your ticket to getting hands-on with history. The following sites included with many Pearl Harbor tours. See specific tour descriptions for details.

Battleship Missouri

When it comes to experiencing life aboard an authentic World War II-era battleship, the Battleship Missouri is as close as you’ll come.

Battleship Missuri sleeping quarters
Get a feel for the tight spaces aboard the Battleship Missouri

While the battleship is best known as the place there the Japanese signed the surrender documents, bringing World War II to an end, it also showcases the inner workings of a real battleship. It’s a truly immersive experience to climb aboard the Mighty Mo and explore the tight quarters of the vessel. This isn’t a recreation of an authentic battleship; it’s the real deal. See how the sailors lived while out at sea and even get a chance to view some of the controls that kept this behemoth warship afloat and sailing.

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum Flight Simulator

Did you ever watch a war movie and wish you could pilot a warplane just once in your life? While you may have a while to go before that’s an actual reality, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s flight simulator comes close.

Climb into cockpit of a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat and take the controls of one of several American and Japanese aircraft in an interactive flight simulator. Choose between an F4U Corsair, P-39 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, Ki-61 Tony, or Mitsubishi A6M Zero (the craft responsible for leading the charge into Pearl Harbor), and engage enemy aircraft over the Pacific.

Take part in dogfights over Guadalcanal, engaging the Japanese in a pivotal part of World War II history. Then, switch gears and try your skill at landing on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center

Hands-on with history: Pearl Harbor survivor "walking the deck" of USS Arizona
Pearl Harbor survivor walks the virtual deck of USS Arizona

The attack on Pearl Harbor unfolded more than 75 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’ll never have the chance to get a firsthand feel of the conflict, and not just through the stories of those who really did live through it. The Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center provides us with such an opportunity through a full VR experience, brought to life through the stories recounted by actual survivors.

Don a virtual reality headset and find yourself standing in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Relive the harrowing moment when the Japanese launched their fighters and bombers over the naval base. Watch as Battleship Row comes under attack and the mighty ships moored there erupt into fireballs and black plumes of smoke.

The Virtual Reality Center also offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk the deck of the USS Arizona. The mighty battleship was the scene of the greatest loss of life during the Pearl Harbor attack, and has remained at the bottom of the harbor ever since. This VR experience is the first time anyone has “walked” the deck of USS Arizona since the moment she exploded and sank on December 7, 1941.

Finally, for those times when the USS Arizona Memorial is inaccessible to visitors, the VR experience provides a private virtual tour you can enjoy at your own pace. It’s not exactly the same as standing atop the serene white structure, but it’s a pretty good substitute, giving you the opportunity to read each of the 1,177 names on the wall of the Shrine Room, representing every Arizona crewman who died in the attack.

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park

Torpedo room aboard the Bowfin submarine
Torpedo room aboard the Bowfin submarine

Like the Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park allows you the opportunity to step aboard an authentic World War II-era vessel. This time, it’s the Bowfin submarine, the vessel that launched on the attack’s first anniversary, leading to her nickname “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”

Take the self-guided audio tour to learn more about this incredible vessel and the submarines of World War II. In addition to climbing aboard Bowfin, you also have access to the submarine museum and the many outdoor exhibits. This is a great chance to explore the history of submarine warfare, from its earliest days to more modern incarnations.

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