Yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I hope you took a few moments to remember those war veterans who were killed that fateful December morning, those who gave their lives protecting our freedom. The crippling of the American Pacific Fleet by Japan was to have been the blow Japan needed to take away military power from the United States and remove a major obstacle in their bid to expand their empire.
Among Japan’s primary targets that morning were the 3 US aircraft carriers usually docked at Pearl Harbor. Fortunately all three were out at sea when the attack occurred. Had they been in port Japan would have gained a major advantage in the Pacific. Instead Japan’s sneak attack succeeded in merely slowing us down a bit and awakened a “sleeping giant.” Within a year America rebounded and had our war machine rolling again and led us on to victory.
December 7th is a day of remembrance, a day to to look back on the events of December 7, 1941, and with deep gratitude, remember the 2400 brave veterans who gave their lives for God and country that morning, It is also the day that we honor the living, those veterans stationed at Pearl who managed to survive that day of infamy for they truly are all that remain of the last great, American heroes. There are somewhere between 2,000 to 2,500 Pearl Harbor survivors alive today. These heroic survivors, all in their 90’s, have carried with them the haunting, painful memories of that dreadful day for the last 73 years. So many memories, so many stories, I’m sure it hasn’t been easy.
Each year many of the survivors make their way to Pearl on December 7 to attend ceremonies sponsored by the Pearl Harbor’s Survivors Association to honor those who died that dreadful day. But since the number of attendees has decreased to so few, its been reported that this year will be the last formal, remembrance organized by the association that will be held at Pearl Harbor. This year more than a dozen survivors attended the ceremony, most of whom said that they didn’t believe this would be their last reunion. The aging veterans said that irregardless of what the Association decides, they would continue to come to Pearl on December 7th, until they could no longer.
I had my first chance to visit Pearl Harbor in November of 1998 on our first ever visit to Hawaii. We were there celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I remember wanting to go to Washington or New Orleans but my wife really wanted to visit Hawaii so Hawaii it was!
I will never forget our visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. I remember it vividly. It was a very moving experience. I was never in the armed services, but it was still incredible to actually be at such a historic site! While waiting for the tour to begin we spent about an hour going through the on-site museum. An incredible amount of time and effort has resulted in a sterling collection of artifacts and informative materials that made our visit more meaningful.
The tour began with a 23-minute documentary film about the December 7th assault featuring newsreels and footage of the devastating attack. I got chills as I sat there watching. This was followed by a short boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial. Once there we disembarked at the entrance to the memorial. I immediately felt as though I had stepped upon hallowed ground. We proceeded to the assembly area at the center of the memorial. From there you can look down on the deck of the sunken Arizona. Even after all those years oil leaking from the sunken battleship can still be seen rising from the wreckage to the surface of the water. This oil is often referred to as “the tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.” It is quite surreal.
The last stop is the the shrine. entering the shrine area was a very solemn moment, extremely reverent, and very church-like. The shrine itself is an enormous wall of solid marble bearing the names of everyone killed on the Arizona. Also on the wall is a small plaque with the names of thirty or so of the crew who survived the attack, but chose to have their remains interred within the wreckage upon their deaths. This is a right given to all surviving crew members. I tell you it was an incredible moment. One I will never forget.
Six months later I had the honor of returning to Pearl Harbor and the memorial with my father, a veteran of WWII and the Korean War. He had never been to Pearl. The closest he’d come was on a transport ship that passed by the harbor in 1942. Being there with my father was an awesome experience. It awakened a lot of memories which he shared with me about his reaction to the attack and his war-time experience. The memorial brought tears to his eyes and seeing his reaction brought tears to mine. sharing that time with my father was the experience of a lifetime.
I went back again in 2003 with friends that had never been to Hawaii. Needless to say, we flew into Honolulu and stayed over for one night before flying on to Maui so that they could visit Pearl Harbor. Even on my third visit I was moved by the experience. There was one part of that visit that caught me quite by surprise. It occurred on the Arizona Monument. I remember we were in the shrine and everyone was being quiet and respectful. Then after a couple of minute or so this idiot started talking to his friend, not in a whisper, but rather loudly. “So this is it” he said in a Bronx accent, “I was expecting more.” He went on talking about his disappointment then said “Hey what do you guys want to do for lunch? Let’s go somewhere good.” It was then that the docent approached his group and asked him to quiet down. He loudly asked “why? so the docent walked them out of the shrine area and back to the ferry. I couldn’t believe their lack of respect and arrogance. From the look on most of the other faces, neither could anyone else.
The last time I was at the memorial was in August of 2008, my fourth visit. We had gone on vacation to Kauai with four other couples. All but one of the couples had been to Pearl Harbor before. Joe, an army vet, had never been to Hawaii before and had expressed a strong interest in seeing Pearl Harbor. One of the guys, also an army vet, chartered a small plane to fly the five of us to Oahu so Joe could experience Pearl Harbor. (the wives had no interest in going) We each paid $100 for the experience. I know it cost much more than that, but our friend who set it up picked up the difference, which was deeply appreciated.
I tell you my fourth Pearl visit was just as moving as my first experience. It was awesome to be with the guys and share Joe’s first Pearl Harbor experience, he was blown away! Like I said earlier there is something special about being at such a historic site. Will I visit Pearl again? Well, I can tell you I probably won’t make a special trip from one of the other islands, but if we’re on Oahu you bet! I’d go in a heartbeat!