Planes are zooming in, rat-a-tat-tat echoing around me, bombs exploding, smoke everywhere and the footage continues to roll past me in black and white. The Pearl Harbor attack; a day I’ve only read about. As I sit and watch the movie of the attack, which includes old footage and ancient pictures of a horrible day, I turn the tables and wonder what the masses of Japanese tourists are thinking about as they watch this film. I imagine what it would be like for me to visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki memorial. The lights raise and the audio stops, I shake all of the thoughts from my head. The main point of the whole memorial experience is to honor and show respect; it is better to focus on that.
The grounds of the Pearl Harbor Memorial are impeccable; palm trees, glistening water views, and majestic buildings. I pick up my audio tour and walk around surveying the area. I wait for my turn to take the boat ride out to the harbor to see the USS Arizona memorial.
We all silently shuffle out of the theater and onto the boat manned by Navy crewmen. I wonder what it’s like to work in this somber environment day in and day out; however they seem to be simply focused on their duties and clearly aren’t over-thinking things like I am. The sky is blue and the sun is reflecting off of the water as if it is a spotlight lighting our way to the scene of a crime. The US flag is flapping around the back of the boat as we pull up to the stark white memorial building. Everything seems motionless and calm around me; an overwhelming feeling of stillness comes over me as I walk off the boat, up the stairs, and into the memorial perched above the sunken USS Arizona.
The USS Arizona is the final resting place for many of the ship’s 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives in the surprise attack. The ship sunk so fast that most were not able to escape. Amidst the solemnness of the situation, I am pleased as I walk around the memorial; it’s beautifully architected above the sunken ship with an open-air design allowing visitors to sort of hover above the grave and reflect.
As I stand here with the sun dancing and glistening on the water, I stick my head out over the railing and peer down; I am emotional. I can see the ship beneath the water surface; it’s rusted and full of aquatic life. It seems I can see, hear, smell, taste and feel the whole day; December 7, 1941. If a monument can evoke the 5 senses then I think it has accomplished its goal.
I walk into the room at the end of the memorial to view the names engraved on the wall and my eyes come to rest upon a surname that matches mine. A distant relative – I have no idea, but I think there must be a connection in some way. I look at everyone else around me, especially the older men and women and wonder what must be going through their minds. I look at the Japanese tourists and wonder what’s going through their minds.
Soon I am summoned back onto the boat, my time at the memorial is up and the boat points back to the shore. After we disembark I head directly to the museum; I have a thirst to see more and learn more. The museum puts a human face to the historical day. Everything inside is engrossing. It is filled with news clippings, dramatic photos, maps, artifacts, video interviews with survivors and even President Roosevelt’s speech with his handwritten edits declaring war on December 8, 1941. However, strangely I am drawn to the video interviews with Japanese civilians about what their lives were like during war time. I am transfixed by the stories of different cultures and how people are the same all over the world; reaffirming why I love to travel.
I stare at the plaque,
“Day of Infamy. December 7, 1941. The roar of aircraft breaks the Sunday morning stillness as Japanese planes sweep across O’ahu. They head toward military airfields and to Pearl Harbor, where sailors prepare to raise the Stars and Stripes. The surprise attack thrusts America into World War II.”
This is the story I hear throughout the afternoon in words, sounds, videos, and papers. It is a somber visit, but one worth taking.
I look at my watch; I’ve been at the park for over 3 hours. I let out a big sigh and decide I’ve seen enough. I’m happy I came here to learn more, see the aftermath, remember the dead, and honor our veterans.
More Information on Pearl Harbor Memorial:
The Memorial is run by the National Park Service and entry to the memorial is free (includes movie and short boat trip to the memorial on the water). Audio Tours are available for a fee and I highly recommend getting one. The audio provides even more information and interviews with survivors; a really moving supplement to the park itself.
The 70th Anniversary of the attack is this week – December 7, 2012 and there are a host of events planned. If you are in the area be sure to check it out –
(http://www.pearlharborevents.com/index.html) The few remaining survivors will also be there. It’s a fleeting opportunity to meet these veterans as time marches on.
Finally the rangers I spoke to told me about a fabulous program for schools that I was excited to share.
If you are a teacher – listen up!!
The Witness To History Video Conference Program provides students and educators, nationally and internationally, with a unique and invaluable distance learning opportunity dedicated to the history of Dec. 7, 1941. Through first hand accounts, artifact examination and expert historical interpretation, the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor come alive for students. Veteran survivors and civilians participate in the video conference. What a unique opportunity that will be fading away as the years go by and we lose our Pearl Harbor veterans. Participation is free. For more information contact [email protected] or (808) 954-8744