JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AP) — President Donald Trump paid a solemn visit Friday to Pearl Harbor and its memorial to the USS Arizona, a hallowed place he said he had read about, discussed and studied but had never visited until just before opening his first official visit to Asia.
Trump saluted after entering the memorial following a short boat ride with first lady Melania Trump. They approached a wreath of white flowers — a gift from the couple — and watched as two sailors who stood beside it at attention placed the wreath near a wall of names of the fallen.
Pearl Harbor was the scene of a surprise attack by Japan that plunged the U.S. into World War II, killing hundreds of service members.
After the wreath was placed, the Trumps tossed white flower petals into the waters above the battleship's sunken hull.
Trump did not speak publicly at the memorial. He said during an earlier meeting Friday with military officials that he eagerly anticipated the visit.
"We are going to visit very shortly, Pearl Harbor, which I've read about, spoken about, heard about, studied, but I haven't seen. And that is going to be very exciting for me," Trump said at the start of a briefing with leaders of the U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the region.
Trump stopped in Hawaii on the eve of his first visit to Asia. He arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Friday after a daylong flight from Washington. He departs Saturday for Japan, the first stop on the five-nation, 11-day journey that will also take him to South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The president quickly donned a lei after he left Air Force One with his wife, who also wore a wreath of flowers. He signed autographs and gave high-fives to kids who were among a group of civilians and service members that gathered for the arrival.
Trump wasn't the only attraction to arrive on base. A few in the crowd shouted their admiration for White House chief of staff John Kelly.
"We love you Gen. Kelly," one person shouted at the retired four-star Marine general who stood several feet behind the president.
Trump was briefed by leaders of the U.S. Pacific Command. The growing threat from North Korea — a crisis that will shadow the entire trip — was expected to be among the topics discussed. Trump was also meeting with the governors of Alaska, Hawaii and Pacific U.S. territories, all potential targets of any successful attempt by North Korea to strike the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile.
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor marks the final resting place of more than 1,000 sailors and Marines who were killed on the battleship during the surprise Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Accessible only by boat, the memorial straddles the ship's sunken hull.
A total of more than 2,300 sailors, soldiers and Marines died as a result of the attack, as well as 68 civilians, according to the National Park Service.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.