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These artifacts, lovingly preserved and rarely on display, tell the story of Pearl Harbor

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 5:41 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2021 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A historic building on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam holds an amazing array of artifacts from the December 7 attack.

Scott Pawlowski of the U.S. National Park Service is in charge of preserving them.

Many items came from the USS Arizona, including a time stamp that belonged to the ship’s notary.

“This is an important item that was salvaged off the ship as part of the salvage,” Pawlowski said.

The collection contains sabers that belonged to naval officers from the battleships and a clock retrieved from the Arizona’s wreckage. Some items date back to before the attack and others are from after the date of infamy.

In all, there are more than 67,000 artifacts.

“It’s a big responsibility. It’s a very personal responsibility in terms of you’re dealing with people’s lives, their stories, their contributions to history, and we’re trying to communicate that,” Pawlowski said.

In a cabinet, uniforms are wrapped in tissue paper, separated and stored according to the names of the men who wore them. Many of the items were donated by families of the fallen, others by relatives of those who survived the attack.

Pawlowski calls them touchstones.

“They are the people’s artifacts. They’re our history, our nation’s history, the world’s history,” he said.

In another section of the building, a room contains more than 20,000 photographs, many in photo albums that belonged to sailors who manned the battleships that came under fire.

“These are mostly East Coast photographs, but if we go clear to the back, here we have Hawaii,” Pawlowski said, gingerly leafing through a leather bound album.

He opened another photo album to show why the room’s temperature is kept at 65 degrees with low humidity that helps to preserve the slides and pictures.

“In this case you can see that you have photographs that are going bad quickly, and then photographs that are in a little better shape,” he said.

On another wall are cabinets filled with images that document the construction and maintenance of Pearl Harbor.

“If you want to see a sidewalk being built or dock or a pier, we have photographs,” he said.

There are also files filled with letters written by Pearl Harbor sailors before the attack.

The collection grows by about five percent a year, and now includes items from the entire war in the Pacific.

“As long as it fits our scope of collection, we love it. It helps us tell the story. It tells some amazing things and cements these families place in history,” Pawlowski said.

The artifacts aren’t available for public view, but the National Park Service is working on an online display so everyone can see them.

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