On December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona, while moored here in Pearl Harbor, was bombed in a Japanese air raid. The 608-foot battleship sank in 9 minutes without firing a shot, taking 1,177 sailors and Marines to their deaths—and catapulting the United States into World War II.

Nobody who visits the memorial will ever forget it. The deck of the ship lies 6 feet below the surface of the sea. Oil still oozes slowly up from the Arizona’s engine room and stains the harbor’s calm, blue water; some say the ship still weeps for its lost crew. The memorial, designed by Alfred Preis, a German architect interned on Sand Island during the war, is a stark-white, 184-foot rectangular bridge that spans the sunken hull of the ship. It contains the ship’s bell, recovered from the wreckage, and a shrine room with the names of the dead carved in stone.

Today, free U.S. Navy launches take visitors to the Arizona. You can make an advance reservation to visit the memorial at the website www.recreation.gov for an additional $1.50 per-ticket convenience fee. This is highly recommended; if you try to get walk-up tickets directly at the visitor center, you may have to wait a few hours before the tour. While you’re waiting for the free shuttle to take you out to the ship, get the audio tour ★★★, which will make the trip even more meaningful. The tour (on an MP3 player) is about 2 1/2 hours long, costs $7.50, and is worth every nickel. It’s like having your own personal park ranger as your guide. The tape is narrated by the late Ernest Borgnine and features stories told by actual Pearl Harbor survivors—both American and Japanese. Plus, while you’re waiting for the launch, the tour will take you step by step through the museum’s personal mementos, photographs, and historic documents. You can pause the tour for the moving 20-minute film that precedes your trip to the ship. The tour continues on the launch, describing the shoreline and letting you know what’s in store at the memorial itself. At the memorial, the tour gives you a mental picture of that fateful day, and the narration continues on your boat ride back. Allow a total of at least 4 hours for your visit.

Note that boat rides to the Arizona are sometimes suspended because of high winds. Check the World War II Valor in the Pacific Facebook page (www.facebook.com/valorNPS) for updated information on boat ride suspensions. Due to increased security measures, visitors cannot carry purses, handbags, fanny packs, backpacks, camera bags (though you can carry your camera, cellphone, or video camera with you), diaper bags, or other items that offer concealment on the boat. However, there is a storage facility where you can stash carry-on-size items (no bigger than 30x30x18 in.) for a fee. A reminder to parents: Baby strollers, baby carriages, and baby backpacks are not allowed inside the theater, on the boat, or on the USS Arizona Memorial. All babies must be carried. One last note: Most unfortunately, the USS Arizona Memorial is a high-theft area—so leave your valuables at the hotel.