I went to the Arizona Memorial shortly after I first came to this island. I'm not into military history, but I thought it was one of the things I should do. I have the utmost respect for all of the military folks who serve or have served our country, and a deep sense of gratitude most especially to those who paid the ultimate price. So I went, not to do something touristy, but to acknowledge their sacrifice. I got my ticket for the boat out to the memorial, then strolled around the museum and the grounds. In the gift shop I purchased a few post cards and a book for my father, who served in the South Pacific during World War II.
The view from the boat which took us out to the memorial was breathtaking. The path of the first invading planes was pointed out to us, our guide's pointing finger sweeping in an arc, over the mountains and a heavily populated urban landscape, to our own location. His words were eloquent and I suddenly felt vulnerable and more than a little exposed. A small taste of what the first witnesses must have felt on that Sunday morning so long ago.
I didn't see much of the first section of the momorial, as we fellow travelers were bunched together to allow a previous group to board our boat back to the landing. As we moved into the central observation area, we spread out, each of us drawn to one of the arches along the sides. I found myself looking directly into the mounting for a gun turret, visible above the water. The walls of the mounting were draped with flower leis tossed by previous visitors. Following it's rusted lines into the water, I saw small, brilliant yellow fish nibbling at algae on its sides. The day itself was brilliant and the reflection of sky on the water required an adjustment of my vision. With focus came the realization that I could see the ship just below the surface. It was massive and looked almost close enough to touch. Despite our large numbers, there was little sound around me. An occasional whisper or the scrape of a shoe. I think it was then that the reality penetrated: I was standing on a grave.
I moved on to the final room, the shrine room, at the end of the memorial closest to Ford Island. The entire end wall is made up of polished slabs of marble inscribed with the names of those who died on the Arizona that terrible day. I began to read. I saw the name of a boy I went to school with and wondered if this was his father or grandfather, half a world away from where we had known each other. I saw my own family name and my mother's maiden name, and wondered if the kinship was coincidental or if I had distant relatives entombed below. I had read only a small portion of that massive wall. I took a few steps back to try to take in the magnitude of what was before me, but my knees felt watery and I stepped forward again quickly to reassert my balance by grabbing a stanchion supporting velvet ropes. I had not anticipated the emotional impact this place would have on me. I felt small and empty and as sad as I've ever felt in my life. I'm not sure how long I had been crying, but I realized then that my face was wet and my glasses were spattered with tears. I was not alone. Others to my right and my left were wiping their faces with tissue, or unashamedly allowing tears to wash over their faces. One in particular caught my eye. An elderly man, head bowed and shoulders hunched, was visibly shaking as he sobbed. His hands came up to his chest, palms together, and he bowed more deeply, from the waist this time. A younger man joined him, handed him a handkerchief without comment, an gently led him away. I learned later that many Japanese, especially of that generation, make the trip to Hawaii as a pilgrimage of contrition. They feel a very personal responsibility and deep sorrow for the day that still lives in infamy.
One more memory. As I left the shrine room I paused at the arches opposite my previous viewpoint. My eyes scanned over the busy, working military harbor and turned towards Ford Island. I think I must have gasped audibly at what I was seeing.You may be able to get a sense of it in the picture below. The realization was startling. From where I stood, over the drowned ship, I could easily have swum and then waded ashore. So very close. If they had not been trapped below, if the water hadn't been on fire, if they hadn't been injured by the blasts, they could almost have reached out and touched the land.
The photos are from the USS Arizona Memorial
page of the National Park Service website. Go.
Labels: military history, USS Arizona Memorial, WWII