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Laughlin Tanaka, a docent at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, serves as more than just a tour guide. As he takes groups on the attraction’s Aviator’s Tour, he engages them with tales of thrilling flight missions and distinctive aircraft that played a role in World War II.
“I’m a storyteller, and I love bringing history to life,” he said.
Tanaka is one of seven docents who lead the Aviator’s Tour, an upgrade from the Oahu museum’s general admission. With its “you are there” approach to history, the tour appeals to clients who want to dig deeper into stories of heroism and sacrifice, as well as people who simply have an interest in flight. Although the museum’s displays have excellent signage, guides such as Tanaka enliven them with passion and personal knowledge. Many of the docents are veterans, pilots or lifelong aviation buffs.
The tour starts with a short film on the history of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. From there, Tanaka leads groups through Hangar 37, a showcase of vintage aircraft, authentic artifacts and dioramas depicting key wartime events.
The next stop is Hangar 79, where Tanaka points out bullet holes in the windows, dramatic remnants of the Dec. 7 attack. The hangar houses mostly post-war jets and helicopters, some awaiting restoration. Its highlight, however, is the iconic Swamp Ghost, a bomber that crashed in New Guinea in 1942 and was rediscovered in 1972. Tanaka recounts its saga in compelling fashion, as he does with exhibits throughout the tour.
“The stories are what count here, and not just the ones I tell,” Tanaka said. “I also hear stories from tour guests whose parents were in the war, so I’m always learning new things.”