Veterans Commemorate Pearl Harbor Anniversary
Marco Garcia  /  Getty Images
A U.S. flag flies at half mast aboard the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
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updated 8/31/2006 8:04:44 PM ET 2006-09-01T00:04:44

Water Island

If you’re atop the 100-foot cliffs at Flamingo Point on a clear day, you can see St. Croix and Puerto Rico 40 miles in the distance. You are also at the highest point of Water Island, considered by those in the know to be the fourth of the U.S. Virgins, just a 10-minute boat ride from Crown Bay on St. Thomas. Amidst all this natural beauty, it may come as a surprise to learn that you are standing on an underground fort built (but never used) by the U.S. military during World War II to protect the nearby submarine base on St. Thomas.

The best way to get to this view and to see nesting terns, frigates, boobies and pelicans is with Agnes Rampino, who has lived with her family on the island since 1986 and runs Water Island Adventures. Agnes will meet you at the ferry, drive you uphill to Flamingo Point and then present you with a Cannondale bike so you can explore the island, starting with Fort Segarra. Entering the bunkers, tunnels 21 feet below the surface, feels like trespassing in an abandoned house: a little dangerous, slightly spooky and vaguely voyeuristic. The islanders still use this bunker as a hurricane retreat.

Ride a bike around the island and you’ll pass homes that were originally built as Army barracks and officers’ housing. You’ll also see ruins of the hotel where writer Herman Wouk stayed for many months while writing his novel Don’t Stop the Carnival.

For another chapter in American history, hike to the Carolina Point Plantation to see foundations of the great house, cisterns, bake ovens and rubble walls from structures including the slave village. These plantations on Water Island were mostly owned by freed slaves who themselves owned slaves. In 1998, locals joined a research team from the Southeast Archeological Center of the National Park Service to excavate the site.

End your visit by riding your bike downhill to Honeymoon Beach (a lunch truck parks there every day) — or rent a house and stay longer. vinow.com/waterisland

Oahu

Most people visiting Oahu head to Pearl Harbor to pay their respects. There may be no more solemn American memorial than the site where 2,403 servicemen and 68 civilians died on the morning that changed the course of the world. This year December 7 marks the 65th anniversary of the bombing of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, forcing the United States’ entry into World War II.
Pearl Harbor, still a working military base, is Hawaii’s top tourist attraction, so arrive when it opens, at 7:30 a.m., to beat the crowds. See the 184-foot USS Arizona Memorial and visit the museum housed in the USS Missouri. You can also head to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in south Oahu, where 44,000 U.S. veterans are buried, as well as war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

Visit America’s only royal residence, Iolani Palace, where Hawaii’s last queen lived until the Hawaiian government was overthrown in 1893. By 1898, the U.S. had formally annexed Hawaii as its newest territory. An extensive restoration project began in the early ’70s, and even today original furnishings and objects that belonged to the monarchy continue to be returned to the palace and displayed for visitors.

Green Turtle Cay
If you were to sit at the Wrecking Tree Bar & Restaurant, right on the beach in New Plymouth, you might pause between your grouper fritters, sit back and survey your surroundings: The clapboard cottages on the waterfront look astonishingly New England-like. Recent fieldwork by Texas A&M’s College of Architecture’s Historic Resource Imaging Laboratory deemed 80 structures in New Plymouth, in the Abacos, historically significant.

This may be the exact spot where New Plymouth’s founders came ashore in 1783. You’ve heard the story — the whole town on Green Turtle Cay is practically a living museum — but now you begin to actually imagine it. George Washington had barely signed the peace treaty with Britain before a boatload of Loyalists fled New York in search of a more hospitable home. This is where they landed and where their descendents still remain.

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Stop by the Albert Lowe Museum to learn more about 18th-century life on Green Turtle Cay, or you can discover for yourself why the Loyalists may have considered Green Turtle Cay an escape and head to Gillam Bay Beach.

St. Eustatius

In the St. Eustatius Harbor divers still find cannonballs, broken pieces of china and even the occasional blue glass bead — those storied baubles disseminated around the world by the Dutch East India Company beginning in the 17th century. Join a walking tour given by the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum and it’s easy to imagine a Pirates of the Caribbean-like scene while strolling along the waterfront in Lower Town. You’ll hear about a time when some 200-300 vessels were anchored in the harbor on any given day, when this tiny Dutch island was the busiest port in the West Indies.

You can still see the ruins of some of the 600 warehouses that date to the mid-1700s. It was Statia’s capitalist merchants who supplied the U.S. Colonies with guns and munitions to support its War of Independence; afterward, Statia was the first to salute the newborn country. There are over 200 archaeological sites on the island; join a weeklong dig as a volunteer with the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research.

ISLANDS FOR DAY-TRIPPING

Dry Tortugas

If you’re in Key West and find that you’ve had enough Hemingway, conch fritters and Key lime pie to hold you for a day, then pack a picnic and your snorkel gear and board a ferry or seaplane to explore the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles away. The hexagon-shaped Fort Jefferson, dating to 1846, dominates the landscape, and you can explore a good portion of it. Plus, the surrounding beaches are pathways to pristine underwater worlds that are perfect to discover with a mask and snorkel.

Alcatraz

Far more than an island, Alcatraz has come to symbolize the loneliest of outposts for prisoners and is the site of the first U.S. military fort and the first lighthouse on the West Coast. It was also the stage upon which the Indian occupation from 1969-1971 played out, forever changing the lives of Native Americans. Visitors to Alcatraz can explore a surprising number of the prison’s areas, including the cellblock that once held the three prisoners who in 1963 staged the infamous escape, later reenacted by Clint Eastwood.

Ellis Island

There is arguably no speck of earth that has more potently symbolized hope for a better life and the promise of possibility than Ellis Island, a U.S. immigration station from 1892 through 1954, through which 12 million immigrants passed. Anyone interested in stories of the human condition will spend hours exploring the restored buildings and their collections – all within the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Our advice: Board the earliest ferry at Battery Park, rent an audio guide and plan to spend the day.

Each issue of ISLANDS Magazine explores the most beautiful island destinations in the world, from tropical island outposts to the sophisticated gems of the Mediterranean. Our top-rate photographers and writers discover the quiet beaches, boutique hotels, and unique cultural experiences that make island travel unique.

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