Sure, we all know the date and the famous quote (Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy“) and, of course, the implications and significance (more than 2,000 Americans were killed in the attack, which launched the U.S. into World War II).
But below are seven facts that may not be so obvious about Pearl Harbor.
1. Most of the battleships sunk that day were resurrected.
Of the eight battleships targeted during the attacks, all but two were eventually repaired and returned to the U.S. Navy’s fleet. The USS West Virginia and the USS California had both sunk completely, but the Navy raised them, repaired them and reused them.
Furthermore, bullet holes and damage from the attacks can be seen to this day at many of the active military installations on Oahu, including Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield and Hickam Army Air Field. Rather than being repaired or covered up, the bullet holes serve as a reminder of the lives lost that day and as motivation for our military to stand strong still.
2. Veterans of the attack can be laid to rest at Pearl Harbor.
Survivors of the attack have the option to join their lost comrades and make Pearl Harbor their final resting place. Crew members who served on board the USS Arizona during the attack — the ship that experienced the most devastating damage — may choose to have their ashes deposited by divers beneath one of the sunken Arizona’s gun turrets. Roughly 30 Arizona survivors have chosen this option and less than a dozen of the 355 survivors are still living. Other military survivors can choose to have their ashes scattered wherever their ship was located during the attacks.
3. The USS Arizona still leaks fuel.
The day before the attacks, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel, nearly 1.5 million gallons. Much of that fuel helped ignite the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ship, but — amazingly — some fuel continues to seep out of the wreckage. According to the History Channel, the Arizona “continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day” and visitors often say it is as if the ship were still bleeding.
4. Service members stationed in Hawaii took care of the memorial during the 2013 government shutdown.
Service members stationed in Hawaii treat Pearl Harbor as a living memorial and have been known to rally around it when times are tough. In October 2013, for instance, when the U.S. government shut down for more than two weeks, no one was around to take care of the memorial site. A group of service members and their families spontaneously gathered to tend to the abandoned site, raking, weeding and mowing the overgrown grass. Their message to all veterans, they said, was: “We haven’t forgotten about you. We will not forget about you.”
5. Many tourists from Japan come to visit the memorial:
While most people can tell you that the Japanese were responsible for the attacks on Pearl Harbor, not everyone realizes that the Japanese now visit the memorial in droves. Japan, now one of America’s strongest allies, is the largest source of international tourists to the state of Hawaii. Japanese visitors pay their respects at Pearl Harbor just as Americans do; ironically, the state’s economic vitality today depends largely on tourism from Japan.
6. A baby girl’s remains still lie entombed within a sunken battleship.
A crew member of the USS Utah had been storing an urn containing his daughter’s ashes in his locker onboard, planning to scatter them at sea, but the Dec. 7 attack prevented him from ever doing so. Sixty-four men died aboard the USS Utah that day, and many of their bodies remain entombed within its sunken hull. The baby girl, who had died at birth, was finally honored with a funeral at the USS Utah Memorial at Pearl Harbor in 2003.
7. There’s a huge oil plume beneath the harbor.
An estimated 5 million gallons of spilled fuel — or nearly half the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska — has been collecting in a large underground plume beneath Pearl Harbor for decades. Though the plume, which lies beneath the main gate of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is approximately 20 acres, or 15 football fields, in size, the Navy maintains that it is currently stable and not a threat to drinking water.