It was like seeing a unicorn.
To be there, in the sunshine, under the blaze of a spring sky, to gaze at the vista they saw that day, to breathe the salt of the same blue waters…to both fulfill a fervent wish for a visit and remember what we’ve learned in the history books, seen in the movies, pictured in our minds.
Yep, a unicorn…maybe rarer. Pearl Harbor. In color…in Honolulu. For real.
Recently, Seth and I were fortunate enough to visit that storied and world famous naval base. You all know the facts…an early morning attack led to America’s entry into World War II, stole the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and, maybe, some of you want to visit like we did. Seth, being a history buff, making me into one, as well—we always knew we’d get there if we could.
And there we were. Goose-pimpled on an unnaturally hot and still day in Hawaii. My reputation for bringing freakish weather to places I travel intact, the locals all commented on the extreme temperatures as we sought the shade of a palm tree’s umbrella and guzzled bottled water, returning the many “alohas” of nearly everyone we met.
Shimmering in the heat, out in the harbor, the eerily beautiful memorial for the USS Arizon rested atop the rusted hulk of the sunken battleship. Nearby, we saw the markers for the ships that were hit but still salvageable.
The mighty battleship Missouri, most famous for hosting the surrender of the Empire of Japan, waited beyond a maze of ramps. We boarded in awe and stood in reverence on the exact spot where Douglas McArthur oversaw the signing of the documents that ended World War II. Later, emotionally spent, drenched in sweat and seated at a beach-side bar, our waiter -- noticing my wilted lei and Seth’s fresh sunburn -- dutifully asked what we “tourists” had been up to all day. When we told him we’d been to Pearl, he stopped and looked directly into my eyes to inquire if we’d felt “the spirit.” “Yes,” I told him. We’d felt it.
Normally, careful about timing and not missing things like trains or buses, we were mistaken about when to return to our group and were two hours late. While we regretted inconveniencing our fellow travelers (who, wisely, gave up on us and left us behind), we realized that our error had given us an unusually long time on the Missouri, allowing many extra reveries as we visited the quarters of the men, sat where the great Admiral Nimitz (and Seth’s hero) had, himself, sat to contemplate and discuss the enormity of enormities that was his command during that historic time as well as linger on the spot where heads of state gathered as the papers were signed.
Visiting the Memorial to the Arizona, we marveled at the small bubbles of oil that, to this day, rise to the surface of the water as they escape the ruptured tanks. We learned that many of the few who survived the attack on that vessel, request that navy divers place their cremated remains back in the ship so they can rest with their comrades.
Seth and I will never forget our day at Pearl.
If we had been true to the emotions we controlled throughout our visit, we would have been crying our eyes out on those sun-soaked decks. The waiter we’d meet later understood…the “spirit” is there. If you want to, you can feel it…the heft of the events that transpired remains palpable. And, as the many American flags began to flutter in the breeze that eventually sprang up, you feel other things, too: pride in America, gratitude for the men who gave everything for their country and hope that America, once again, can galvanize against the enemies who seek to undermine her daily.
If a visit to Honolulu isn’t in your future, do some googling and encourage your kids to do the same. Rent “From Here to Eternity” and “Tora, Tora, Tora!” from Netflix and see, if only in a movie director’s vision, what went on there. I hope you all had both a contemplative and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. God bless America.
|The Memorial rests atop the fallen ship.|