Sunday, December 12, 2010

Always A Quiet December at Pearl Harbor

Reprinted from today's Times and News-Star

On these chilly mornings, my friend Mrs. Jan at the U-Pack-It Coffee & Such reminds us to break out our “fur-lined under-yonders” – or else risk a freeze-up in the tender nether regions.

Either that, or wear double underdrawers.

I prefer the heat, which I was surely in this summer when I found myself honeymooning, of all things, in Hawaii, of all places. I know: sounds bigshot-ish. But to be truthful, we will never forget this experience because we are reminded of it daily in our photo album and monthly in our credit card statement.

Priceless? Whatever.

It’s a long story, how I got to Hawaii and back. To be precise, it’s about 24 hours, counting layovers. If you plan Pacific travel, you’d better know where you’re going, is all I can say. Or be a really, really good swimmer. I’d suggest bringing a sandwich.

The thing is, when I was a small man, I loved reading the “We Were There” book series, written for the upper elementary and junior high crowd. I was a Bookmobile junkie of the first order, and if a “We Were There” book was available, I was an easy sell.

If I remember correctly, it was always a boy and girl who just happened to be in the middle of some serious action. “We Were There With Lewis & Clark.” “We Were There When Grant Met Lee At Appomattox.” “We Were There When Liz Married Dick.” And on like that.

But my favorite in a long line of winners was “We Were There At Pearl Harbor.” I’d just thought I’d read good books before. But once I closed the cover on this baby, I knew that everything before had been just child’s play. Thank you for writing it, Felix Sutton, wherever you are. You made a difference for me.

And so, in May, a lifelong dream came true: We Were There At Pearl Harbor. “There” there. It was not a disappointment.

I am writing this early on Tuesday, the 69th anniversary of Japan’s attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor. It is still several hours before the official beginning of the attack, just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time. At approximately 8:06 a.m., the USS Arizona, hit by a 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb that ignited its forward ammunition magazine, exploded. It sank in less than nine minutes and with 1,177 of its crew. The iconic photograph of that day is the shattered battleship burning and falling to port.

To stand on the USS Arizona Memorial above the clearly visible sunken battleship is a privilege. Architect and Memorial designer Alfred Preis had in mind, he wrote, an overall effect of “serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses…his innermost feelings.”

That sounds “deep,” but I will tell you that standing on the Memorial, watching oil still seep from the Arizona’s hull and imagining waves of Japanese aircraft coming from the west over the unchanged Waianae Mountains, is a moment fascinating to contemplate…

The American flag still flies above the USS Arizona from a pole attached to the severed mainmast of the battleship. And a few hundred feet away is the USS Missouri, on whose deck the Empire of Japan signed papers of unconditional surrender to end World War II.

Pearl Harbor at “see” level. As a stocking stuffer, it’s a bit pricey. But if you ever get the chance, please go.