Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remembering Pearl Harbor

I remember the 50th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor when President Bill Clinton came to O'ahu to be part of the recognition ceremonies. I had the TV turned on to watch the event unfold. I heard and then saw fighter jets streak by outside my window. The sound outside the windows disappeared but a few seconds later the roar appeared on the TV as the cameras caught the fighters as they made their fly over with the missing man formation at Pearl Harbor about ten miles away as the crow flies from the Apt in Paradise. It was a total chicken skin moment.

Today I did something that I've thought about doing ever since I moved to Hawaii. It was the 69th anniversary of the attack that happened at Pearl Harbor. I visited the USS Arizona Memorial on the anniversary date of the surprise attack that forced the US to enter into World War II. I wasn't fully prepared for the days events.

I know they have a remembrance in the morning with emphasis around 7:55am, the time of the first bomb drop at the harbor which began the attack of the US Pacific Fleet. I figured that it was probably for the survivors and special guests. I arrived at 8:45am and found that the ceremony was still going on. It turned out that I got the every end of the ceremony that was culminated with the dedication of the new visitor center.

In my location at the back of the crowd there were lots of uniformed military personnel. After the ceremony concluded many of the survivors and their families started to move about the facility. It hit me that with the 69 years since the attack and on the lowest side, these men and women were 18, that makes Pearl Harbor Survivors around the 90 years old. Unfortunately it won't be long before there will be no more first hand accounts on a one on one level.

The last time I was at the memorial was about three years ago when I visited with a friend from the mainland. The place looks so much better now with the new buildings and expansion. It's not cramped like before. I was exploring one of the new galleries and saw their videos from survivors telling their stories from both the American and Japanese perspective as well as military and civilian. For artifacts there was one blood stained uniform on display. In another a picture shows a dead person whose lower extremities were severely burned and charred to the boe due to a fire from a vehicle they were laying near. While it may have been tough to look at, it helped to bring out the horror and humanity of what happened that December morning.

It then got interesting as park and security staff started to push people back and close the galleries. Apparently someone had left a package unattended. This disrupted the day, but they kept the shuttle running over to the memorial. They were having survivors, families and organizations go over to the memorial for presentations.

The schedule got off. My 12:15 time approached and past. Luckily it wasn't too much after that when they reopened the secured area. I got to see the film about 20 or so minutes late. The new film is good, but I'll never forget the one that opened with underwater shots of the decaying hull of the USS Arizona. In the background you hear these faint whispers saying the names of people who had died. The voices disappear and the narrator outlining a scene comes on. It then goes back to an underwater shot and the whispering of names. Another one of those chicken skin moments. The film uses real footage of the attack and includes the explosion that sunk the USS Arizona. After the film we proceeded onto the shuttle boat to the memorial.

On board the memorial there were wreaths everywhere. In one area there was a basket filled with names and ranks of people who perished that day along with orchid blossoms. You were encouraged to take the single bloom and a card and to think about that person and release the flower onto the water above the remains of the battleship. The ship that became the tomb for the men of the USS Arizona.

You board the memorial on one side and on the other side is a room with a wall that is inscribed with the names of the 1177 people that perished on the ship that morning. A survivor from another ship was pushed up to the front line of wreaths in his wheelchair. He sat there for a moment. I don't know what he was contemplating or remembering. When he was turned around one lady in the crowd said "Thank You" and the crowd broke into applause. Even before the clapping started the man had tears in his eyes.

A number of times from when I arrived until I left I too had tears. Looking at the people and having a small glimpse into what they endured that Sunday morning. These former soldiers and seamen and airmen have made it back to a place that changed their lives forever. Some of them standing on their own, but many of them with support of others or using canes, walkers or wheelchairs and they came. It was worth their time, effort and money to come back to remember even when some of them looked very frail. That brought tears to my eyes.

I have a Flickr set called Pearl Harbor Remembrance 2010 where you can see more photos from the day.

Old Location of the USS Arizona anchor

New Location of the USS Arizona Anchor