Manning the rails in Pearl Harbour

You may not have heard of the  US naval tradition of ‘manning the rails’  – but it’s especially poignant at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.

‘Manning the rails’  – which involves a ship’s crew  lining up and saluting along the deck  – is a centuries old practice of  showing respect aboard naval ships.

The practice has long been a tradition when US military vessels entered or left Pearl Harbour past the USS Arizona Memorial.


We’ve watched it happen  – and the practice can be quite moving.

The bombing of Pearl Harbour took place at 7.55am Honolulu time on December 7th, 1941 – killing 2,400 people.


The United States declared war on Japan the next day. Three days after that, Germany’s Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States.

World War II had entered a new and decisive phase.

Fewer than 200 survivors of the attacks at Pearl Harbour and on other military bases in Hawaii are said to be still alive.

Main image courtesy  of US Navy’s Melissa D Redinger/Released and The Sextant 


Pearl Harbour: moving and sombre

Hawaii is one of our favourite Pacific destinations, a scenic chain of islands that we regularly recommend as a ideal for travellers of all ages – and a perfect spot to meet up for a family reunion..

As well as its beaches, natural beauty, tropical climate,  volcanoes, melting pot of cultures and relaxed lifestyle, Hawaii also boasts a sombre slice of history at Pearl Harbour, Honolulu.


Waikiki Beach

The USS Arizona Memorial – located on the harbour – marks the resting placed of 1,102 sailors and Marines killed during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour more than 70 years ago.

This attack – on December 7, 1941 – led to direct involvement in World War II by the United States of America.

The Arizona memorial – built in 1962 – can be reached only by boat across Pearl Harbour and straddles the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it.


The Arizona Memorial

As we approached the striking white structure, it was explained that the design of a peak at each end joined by a sag in the centre represented the height of American pride before the war, followed by the sudden depression of a nation after the attack – and the rise of US power to new heights after the conflict.

The aim is to give an overall effect of serenity.

On arrival at the memorial, we walked from the boat to the central assembly room that features seven large open windows on either wall and ceiling, to commemorate the date of the attack.


From there we moved to the shrine, pausing by an opening in the floor overlooking the sunken decks of the Arizona.

The floor opening is a solemn place where you can drop flowers in honour of the fallen sailors.

Directly below, a small amount of oil could be seen rising from the wreckage.

This oil, we were told, is sometimes known as the ‘Tears of the Arizona’.

The shrine at the far end is a marble wall bearing the names of those killed on the Arizona, protected behind velvet ropes.


To the left of the main wall is a small plaque which bears the names of thirty or so crew members who survived the 1941 sinking.

Back on shore, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Centre and sat in its theatre to watch a short information firm about the Pearl Harbour attack.

At the centre, we were told about the remarkable Pearl Harbour salute known as ‘Manning the Rails’.

Apparently, whenever a United States Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine vessel enters Pearl Harbour, personnel stand at attention at the ship’s guard rails and salute the USS Arizona Memorial.


We also marvelled at one of the huge 19,585-pound anchors of the Arizona displayed near the doorway to the visitor centre.

The Arizona is officially regarded as an active U.S. military cemetery.

We were told that, as survivors of the attack on the Arizona pass away, many choose to have their ashes scattered in the water over the ship, or have their urns placed within the structure of the ship.

FullSizeRender 13

Making our way from Pearl Harbour, we also took a quick look at the adjoining USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.

We were pleased that we found the time to visit Pearl Harbour, which is only a short bus ride from Honolulu.

It is both humbling and moving – and we recommend it.

Features Hawaii