Pearl Harbor and The USS Arizona
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an event that hurled the United States into World War II , though it had been raging in Europe for years. 2,403 Americans died in our first encounter with the Japanese. 418,500 American military and civilians would die by the end of the war.
Most of us think of the sinking of the USS Arizona when Pearl Harbor. It is our touchstone, the most talked about tragedy of that day. 1,177 men died when a Japanese bomb hit its ammunitions magazine, sinking the ship in nine minutes.
The Arizona is the most visited memorial in the USS Arizona Memorial Park, but the park is more than one ship. On shore, a path winds past monuments, each one dedicated to a warship, destroyer, or other ship that was sunk or damaged during the war. Names of the crew who perished are engraved in granite. Monument after monument carries a grim reminder of the young men who sacrificed all for their country.
I lived on Oahu for two years. I’ve visited the memorial on more than one occasion. It’s hard to reconcile the beauty of the island and the almost perfect weather to this great loss. Perhaps this is why rainbows appear so frequently there, as a sign of respect and hope.
It’s hard not to be aware of the park. On every car trip into Honolulu from the west, one can’t help but see the golfball-shaped radar ball moored at Ford Island, a visible reminder of the events that happened on December 7, 1941 (“a date that will live in infamy). The few public parks on the shores of one of the largest natural harbors in the world are not family playgrounds, but acres of green shoreline, cast forever in the shadow of loss.
If you have a chance to visit Oahu, please take a few hours away from the glistening shores of Waikiki to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. Schedule your visit through one of the tour group such as Roberts Hawaii. It’s not Disney World, you don’t walk up and stand in line to hop a tender to the Arizona. Your group will be scheduled for a specific time. Visit the rest of the park while you wait.
The tour of the Arizona is fifteen minutes. You’re dropped off on the platform and expected to catch the next tender for shore. It’s not enough time, and there’s no rule you have to return after that period. Stay on the platform built over the sunken remains. Read the names of the men who died that day. Watch drops of oil rise to the surface from its carcass (2.3 quarts per day). Say a prayer or two. It is a very emotional, humbling experience.
The Mighty Mo
Visit the USS Missouri “Mighty Mo”, the battleship permanently moored in the harbor. On its deck, the Japanese surrendered to the representative of the Allies, General Douglas MacArthur. (side note: the tables used to sign the documents was transported up from the mess hall. The company from which I retired manufactured them).
The Missouri is a living time capsule, preserved as it was in 1991 when it was decommissioned. Usually, on the upper deck, you can witness a flag raising ceremony. The day we visited, a flag was raised for the Wounded Warriors Project, a sobering reminder of what our armed services continue to sacrifice for our freedom.
I am proud, seventy-five years later, that America has not forgotten the events of Pearl Harbor and treats it with the reverence and honor it deserves.
Today’s ceremonies mark the first on a long list of seventy-fifth anniversaries in “the war to end all wars”. Take a moment to reflect on the greatest sacrifice man can make for his fellow man. Take a moment to thank the men and women who continue to do so.
If you have time, visit The National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific, aka “Punchbowl”, a cemetery nestled in the bowl of an ancient volcano, where more than 25,000 veterans are interred.