Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor-70 Years Later

As President Roosevelt stated so many years ago, December 7, 1941, has indeed become a date that lives in infamy. Just two weeks ago, Jeff and I took a trip to Hawaii. As part of that trip, we made it a point to tour Pearl Harbor.

Our first stop was the ticket booth. While it costs nothing to tour the Arizona Memorial you do need a ticket. They are first-come, first-served and they go fast. Our tour wasn't scheduled for another hour so we bought our tickets for the rest of the site and went on to tour the USS Bowfin. This submarine was launched exactly 69 years ago today. Because of her launch date she was nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger and avenge she did.  It was a fascinating tour. While the quarters were indeed cramped, it was larger inside than I expected. That of course comes from one of about five people that were moving through at the time. With 88 men on board (only 66 beds, some over the torpedoes) I'm sure it didn't feel nearly as spacious. It also did not have the benefit of A/C, very limited shower usage, and long weeks under the ocean. Because of this, those who signed on for submarine duty were given better food rations.

The Pearl Harbor Avenger
How would you like to sleep above the torpedo?
The other sleeping quarters.
After we finished at the Bowfin we went to our USS Arizona tour. As we were waiting to start the tour, the park ranger told our group that one of the survivors was there that day and that he was available to talk. That got us really excited. Then it was time to watch the movie. Before you are taken by boat to the memorial you watch a 23- minute film on what happened at Pearl Harbor and why. While a little PC, (there are a lot of Japanese tourists that come through) it does a very good job of explaining all that leads up to the tragic day. Survivors are interviewed and it is full of footage from the day. We made our way to the boat that would take us to the memorial. The Pearl Harbor Historic sites are not only national monuments, they are US military sites on a working military base. The boat ride is conducted by US Naval crewmen. Once at the memorial I was a little surprised by how moved I was to be there. We had been at Pearl Harbor for a couple of hours by this time and had already seen so much about the attack that I wasn't expecting it. Seeing the oil that still leaks from the wreckage, different parts of the ship that are still visible, the markers that show where the other battleships were docked at the time, it was all moving. Then you go into a back room and see all of the names. These young men, so many of them only about as old as my daughter, never had a chance. Then you notice two small benches. One of them also has names on it. These are names of the survivors who have since died and had their ashes placed with their fallen comrades. We were told that when a survivor dies and chooses to do this, his ashes are put in a special lead container and after the park closes for the day the family is taken to the memorial and then a full military service is conducted. Then Navy divers take the container and place it in a crack that was formed when the ship sank. Today there is one more survivor that will be laid to rest with his shipmates, 70 years later.  That brings the number of USS Arizona survivors to 19.

It is customary to leave a lei at the wall.

The Arizona was not the only ship to have sunk that day. One that did not sink but rolled over, taking 429 men with her was the USS Oklahoma. Until 2007, there was no memorial to these men. Now, just outside of where the USS Missouri is docked, in what was the spot the USS Oklahoma was docked on that day, is a memorial of 429 white marble pillars, each with the name and branch served in of the sailor or Marine that died. Among them were two medal of honor recipients.  In Oklahoma City you can go see the anchor of the great battleship.
USS Oklahoma Memorial

The USS Missouri memorial is just amazing to see. While to a couple of people from Oklahoma it was the biggest ship we'd ever seen, we were told that it paled in comparison to the USS Ronald Reagan that had been there fairly recently. This great battleship served all the way up to Desert Storm in the 1990's You can tour living quarters, officer's offices, a post office, the bridge, much of the ship is open to tourists. Perhaps the two most interesting things are being able to stand on the exact spot where the Japanese signed the articles of surrender, ending WW2 and seeing the Kamikaze Dent. Only one time did the Japanese attack it this way. The pilot clipped a reinforced area, exploding his plane and losing his life, but only a dent was suffered by Mighty Mo.  Sailors recovered his body and he was given a proper burial at sea.
 Kamikaze Dent

 Mighty Mo

 Powerful Display
 The end of the war
 Articles of Surrender of Japan and the United States

 Respect shown to the enemy
Words of wisdom from one of our great leaders
Allen (Al) Bodenlos. He was 21 year-old boy that day. He quickly became a man. He was the Bugle Master for the 804th New Drum and Bugle Corps. He recalled the USS Arizona blowing up and the USS Oklahoma rolling over. He was also the company courier and for the next two days, without sleep, he carried messages from the command posts to the airfields. He lives in San Diego and comes a couple of times a year to volunteer at the memorial. He is now 91 and only one of a handful of living survivors. They don't make men like this anymore

Such a privilege to meet this man.  And he was so funny too.  When his friends in San Diego ask him why he keeps going back to Pearl Harbor each year, his reply: "I'm looking for a hula momma!"

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