Oahu is steeped in history, especially regarding WWII. Visitors to the island owe it to themselves to visit Pearl Harbor and step back to an era President Roosevelt deemed “A day which will live in infamy.” One Pearl Harbor destination that should be on your “to-do” list is visiting the USS Bowfin Submarine and Naval Museum & Park. You’ll step into a former WWII submarine and retrace the footsteps of these brave naval sailors. And if you fear being in a sub that’s underwater, don’t worry; it rests on solid concrete.
The USS Bowfin, nicknamed “the Pearl Harbor Avenger,” was launched into service one year after the infamous attack in 1941. The USS Bowfin went on nine patrols, each lasting two months. Bowfin’s missions were in the Pacific, where the submarine hunted and sank Japanese ships. You’ll learn more about these missions on your self-guided tour.
When planning your visit to the USS Bowfin Submarine and Naval Museum & Park, plan on spending 1.5-2 hours exploring. Before touring the Bowfin, make sure you’ve used the restroom, as none are available in the sub. Fans circulate the air, but there’s no air conditioning, so feel free to bring bottled water. Remember that children under four may not tour the Bowfin for safety reasons but can join you in exploring the museum at no charge.
Once inside, you’ll be awestruck at how so many men lived, worked, and fought under confined conditions. The Bowfin’s interior is narrow, and visitors must climb through the bulkheads separating the submarine’s interior compartments. Such challenges may be too much for older people or those with disabilities.
After visiting the Bowfin, step inside the newly renovated Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum. On your self-guided tour, you’ll read letters from home to the sailors, learn about submarine propulsion systems, and study photos, artifacts, and memorabilia from WWII, the Cold War, and today.
Step outside the museum to explore exhibits honoring the Pacific Fleet Submarines. The Waterfront Memorial is dedicated to the 52 submarines and over 3,600 officers and crew lost during WWII. The Regulus I was a nuclear-armed turbojet-powered cruise missile the Navy used during the Cold War.
Be sure to step into the conning tower of the USS Parche since you cannot visit the Bowfin’s conning tower. The conning tower is the command center of the submarine, where the commander can use the periscope, give orders to his crew, and direct the vessel’s movement and speed.
Also worth inspecting is the Japanese human torpedo, the Kaiten. As haunting and horrific as it is to consider, these suicide torpedos showed Japan’s dedication to winning the war and the sacrifice made by the men steering the Kaiten.
Ending on a positive note is the McCann Rescue Chamber. In 1939, the chamber was paramount in the only successful rescue of men from a sunken submarine. The rescue vessel, the USS Squalushe, lowered the chamber by cable and, on multiple trips, rescued 33 survivors.
The USS Bowfin Submarine and Naval Museum & Park is a treasure trove rich with history and artifacts to remind us of war’s horrors and the cost of freedom. Whether young or old, patriotic or curious, we believe visiting the submarine and museum is worth your time and money.
-The USS Bowfin tour offers a family-friendly audio version that makes the discussion of naval combat more suitable for children.
-For history and WWII buffs, consider purchasing the Passport to Pearl Harbor. It includes all the historic sites at a discounted bulk price.