Only a month after Jade and my trip to Honolulu, the whole family went. The first stop on our Honolulu family getaway was Pearl Harbor, so close to the airport. To many Americans, including myself, it represents WWII. Greg and I had been here on our Honeymoon years ago. I came away from that experience feeling a strong sense of appreciation for my father’s war service. This trip was no different. It hit me again when I saw a poster at the Pearl Harbor museum showing a soldier that could have been my Dad. It looked just like him.
Dad wasn’t at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack, didn’t see the carnage, but felt it none-the-less as this event brought the US into WWII. He enlisted soon after with his brothers. They were sent to Italy; he went to the Pacific. I have only scraps of stories. I know he spent time on Kauai, tramping through tropical foliage, searching for Japanese landing on remote parts of the island. He also served in New Guinea.
The story I cherish the most was about how I got my name. Dad was fighting on New Guinea alongside his buddy who was constantly singing “Smile for me, My Diane.” While the song was first released in 1927, several performers recorded it just before and during the war: Tommy Dorsey in 1939, Bing Crosby in 1941, and Vic Damone in 1942.
My Dad told me his friend was there, right next to him one second, but went down the next. He was hit by a bullet that would have taken out my Dad, were it not for him standing in the way. Dad held him and promised him he’d name his first daughter Diane to remember him. His buddy died in his arms. It could have been my Dad. That was the most he ever said about his war service.
Dad has since passed, so I can’t write him like I did back then to thank him for his service to our country. For me, and many others, this place, Pearl Harbor, represents all of WWII in the Pacific. This is even more true today than when we first visited, because since then, the USS Missouri, the ship where the Japanese surrendered, was permanently berthed not far from the Arizona. The beginning and the end of the war. A piece of my Dad’s spirit is here; I can feel him.
Both girls said they learned so much at Pearl Harbor. The theater film gave a good description of what happened that day the Japanese struck, December 7, 1941. They knew something about Battleship Row and the way the Japanese planes torpedoed the big ships like so many sitting ducks. All eight were hit and damaged and four of them sank including the Arizona which sank in minutes after a bomb hit the forward ammunitions compartment, blowing the ship apart. It burned for two days.
What was new information to the girls was the way the Japanese first crippled almost all of our planes sitting on air fields at Hickam, Wheeler, Bellows, and Ford Island. They were lined up out in the middle of the fields wingtip to wingtip, as the commanders were more concerned about sabotage from the local Japanese than about the possibility of an air strike. 347 of the 402 aircraft we had in Hawaii were either damaged or destroyed. Once the planes were out of the way, the Japanese freely torpedoed the ships. It was all over in 90 minutes.
The lights came up, and the audience shuffled out to the Navy boat that took us to the Arizona Memorial. We wondered how the Japanese in the audience felt as they were viewing the film and walking the memorial.
Seeing the hulk of the ship just underneath us, the huge gun turret bases, the oil from the ship still leaking to the surface of the water even to this day, made that day real to us. There’s not much to see above the water line; anything that was salvageable off the Arizona was pulled from the ship to repair the ships that could join the war.
During the 1950s, discussion of what to do with the submerged hull often turned to scrapping it. But President Eisenhower approved the creation of the memorial in 1958, though the legislation stipulated that private funds be used. One major contributor was Elvis Presley with his benefit concert in March 1961 which produced over 10% of the needed funds.
This sacred space we were now seeing was the product of the efforts of those who wanted us to remember. The 1177 names on the memorial wall spoke eloquently of the sacrifice the men from the Arizona made that day. Totally unaware, they really didn’t even have a chance to fight against that first wave of planes that screamed in over the mountains. Altogether, 2386 American military and civilians died. Most of the 1177 dead from the Arizona remain entombed within the bowels of the ship to this day.
The somber trip back to the museum was punctuated only by the variable sound of the transport boat’s motor as it hit the waves in the harbor. Everyone was quiet. After disembarking, we took the time to go through the museum, the details made concrete by what we had seen in the film and at the memorial.
Greg made one more stop at the gift shop – to buy flags that had flown over the Arizona Memorial for the girls, his promise fulfilled. That flagpole is attached to the severed mainmast of the USS Arizona.
For more essays on Honolulu and things to see there, see:
If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.