What Is the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater?


By: Mark Loproto

When you go on a Pearl Harbor tour, you see some of the most iconic locations on the island of Oahu. From the USS Arizona Memorial to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, there’s no shortage of history to explore. As you explore the itinerary for your day, you may notice mention of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater. While it’s clear what the USS Arizona Memorial, Battleship Missouri, and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park are, the memorial theater may leave you with some questions.

Some of the places you see at Pearl Harbor were already there on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched their surprise attack, while others were constructed later, to commemorate that terrible day. Structures like the two hangars that house the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum were present for the attack and still show signs of being struck by enemy fire. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the USS Arizona Memorial, and the Memorial Theater, on the other hand, were added to honor the memory of the thousands of lives lost on that ill-fated Sunday morning.

History of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater

The Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater, which is located to the left of the main entrance, was an original part of the plans of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which was first built in 1980 and expanded and renovated in 2010. The original theater was built alongside a museum exhibit and a bookstore.

Sign at the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater
Sign at the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater

Renovated with the rest of the Visitor Center, the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater now includes two identical auditoriums. The theater is the first stop of the timed USS Arizona Memorial program. The interior is a simple design with stadium-style seating that looks down at a movie theater-style screen. Here, visitors watch a 23-minute documentary film that includes archival footage from the attack, as well as information on the USS Arizona and the memorial built to honor the men lost when the battleship exploded and sank.

The Film

While the building that houses the theater is a relatively recent construction, the film provides visitors with a deep connection to the events of December 7, 1941. After viewing the film, guests emerge with a much deeper understanding of what occurred aboard USS Arizona and around Pearl Harbor on that December morning nearly 80 years ago.

The Next Part of the Program

USS Arizona's bell on display at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
USS Arizona’s bell on display at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

After watching the film, visitors exit from the front of the auditorium to a dock where they board a US Navy shuttle boat that takes them on a tour of Battleship Row and the USS Arizona Memorial, conditions permitting.

Near the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater is a physical piece of USS Arizona: the ship’s bell, which was salvaged from the mighty battleship and put on display as another means of memorializing the men who died during the assault on Pearl Harbor. Another piece of the ship, her anchor, can be found just north of the Visitor Center entrance.

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