Thousands of people each day leave the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor feeling like they have a full accounting of the attack. But there is so much more than what you may experience on a self-guided or standard Pearl Harbor Tour.
Here are 5 things you might miss out on experiencing at Pearl Harbor:
1. The Haleiwa Air Field
Originally used as an emergency landing field for Fighter aircraft, in 1941 Haleiwa Field had only an unpaved landing strip and very austere conditions. Haleiwa Field was mainly used to simulate real battle conditions for gunnery training. Those on temporary duty there had to bring their own tents and equipment.
On December 7th the Japanese heavily strafed the aircraft at Wheeler Field and few were able to get airborne to fend them off. Haleiwa was an auxiliary field to Wheeler and contained a collection of aircraft temporarily assigned to the field. Lt. George S. Welch and 2nd Lt. Kenneth M. Taylor, both P-40 pilots, were at Wheeler when the attack began. They had previously flown their P-40B fighters over to the small airfield at Haleiwa as part of a plan to disperse the squadron’s planes away from Wheeler. Not waiting for instructions the pilots called ahead to Haleiwa and had both their fighters fueled, armed and warmed up. Both men raced in their cars to Haleiwa Field completing the 16-mile trip in about 15 minutes. With their P-40s, now warmed up and ready, they jumped into their cockpits. The crew chiefs informed them that they should disperse their planes. “The hell with that”, said Welch. Ignoring the usual pre-takeoff checklists the aircraft took off down the narrow airstrip.
Once in the air they spotted a large number of aircraft in the direction of Ewa and Pearl Harbor. Only then did they realize what they were up against. “There were between 200 and 300 Japanese aircraft,” said Taylor; “there were just two of us!” The two P-40’s engaged the aircraft attacking Ewa Mooring Mast and shot down five Japanese planes. They then returned to Wheeler to replenish their ammunition. While there, another wave of dive bombers appeared and Lt. Taylor raced back into the air. His P-40’s cockpit was damaged as a Japanese plane chased him. Lt. Welch was able to down the plane following him and they both returned to Wheeler. Lt. Welch was credited with a total of four Japanese planes shot down and Lt. Taylor downed two. Just as suddenly as it began, the sky was empty of enemy aircraft. Taylor & Welch were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Welch and Taylor’s dramatic ride and takeoff were shown in the movie Tora, Tora, Tora.
2. The Opana Point radar site
The Opana Radar Site is a National Historic Landmark and IEEE Milestone that commemorates the first operational use of radar by the United States in wartime, during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On December 7, 1941, the Opana Radar Site was manned by Private Joseph L. Lockard and Private George Elliot, who detected approaching aircraft at 7:02 am (past the end of the site’s scheduled operating day). Since the truck to take them to breakfast was late, the pair continuined to practice with the radar equipment.
The men reported their findings to the temporary information center at Fort Shafter. The information center staff had gone to breakfast and Lt. Kermit Tyler received the report. Tyler reasoned that the activity was a flight of Army B-17 Flying Fortress bombers scheduled to arrive that morning and advised the radar crew not to worry. Elliot and Lockard continued plotting the incoming planes until 7:40 when contact was lost. Shortly before 8:00 am they headed to Kawailoa for breakfast and only learned about the attack when they arrived. Elliot and Lockard rushed back to Opana and operated the radar until the attack ended.
3. Bellows Field
Bellows Field was made a permanent military post in July 1941, and it was one of the airfields attacked during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Bellows Field is where the Japanese midget sub washed ashore, it’s all still here and visible.
The stories of the Coast Guard aviator, Capt. Frank Erickson.
4. The hidden runway at Wheeler Army Air Field.
Wheeler Army Airfield was a primary target in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked the airfield to prevent the numerous planes there from getting airborne and engaging them. Most of the planes were destroyed, but 12 pilots assigned to the 15th Pursuit Group at Wheeler (predecessor of the 15th Air Base Wing) succeeded in getting their P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk aircraft off the ground, engaged the Japanese in furious dogfights, and scored some of the first American victories of World War II.
5. Ships anchored in Pearl Harbor’s West Loch
The West Loch Disaster was a maritime accident during World War II at the Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval Base in Hawaii. The incident, which occurred just after 1500 hrs. on Sunday 21 May 1944, began following an explosion in a staging area for Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) and other amphibious assault ships in West Loch. A fire quickly spread among the ships being prepared for Operation Forager, the invasion of the Japanese-held Mariana Islands. Over the next 24 hours, six LSTs sank, 163 naval personnel died and 396 were injured.
A subsequent Naval Board of Inquiry never determined the exact cause of the disaster but concluded that the initial explosion was caused when a mortar round aboard LST-353 detonated during an unloading operation because it was either dropped or went off when gasoline vapors ignited. The incident – together with the Port Chicago disaster two months later – led to major changes in weapon handling practices within the United States Navy.
Bonus: The stories
There are hundreds of stories from Pearl Harbor, ranging from the duty officer at Ford Island the night before the attack – a Coast Guard aviator named Capt. Frank Erickson – or the cutter Taney, who while anchored in Honolulu Harbor fired at attacking Japanese planes during the battle. These stories come alive when told by tour guides, and they’re extra special because they don’t get told often.
See all of this and more on a Pearl Harbor tour with Pearl Harbor Warbirds.
Pearl Harbor Warbirds offers the best Hawai‘i flight adventure tours available. Be immersed in the details of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor and soar above the important sites that played a part in the “Day of Infamy.” Relive history as you retrace the steps of the Army and Navy airmen in the days following the bombing. Fly on some of the same routes the Japanese attackers used into the airfields at Wheeler, Kāne‘ohe and Bellows. There are many air tours in Hawai‘i, but only one warbird airplane flight. Located in Honolulu, Hawai‘i Pearl Harbor Warbirds provides a personal historical experience making it one of the best O‘ahu attractions.
Experience an immersive two hour adventure that allows you to relive history as a Naval Aviator and fly Pearl Harbor like it was on December 10th, 1941. Learn more about the Admiral’s Warbird Adventure.