We woke up early yet again on the third day. And again, watched a breathtaking sun rise from the break wall in front of Matt and Lauren's house. This was one of the days I was most looking forward to. We were to visit Pearl Harbor. A place I have always wanted to see.
I have had a strange fascination with war ever since high school. Not necessarily in the sense of "GO AMERICA! KILL EVERYONE THAT DOESN'T LIKE DEMOCRACY!!" but more so just in that the politics and tactics of war and the military are infinitely fascinating. Especially WWII. An entire nation's stance on The United States involvement in a war that did not concern us - swayed in a matter of a couple of hours. How the government used the anger and hate towards our enemies to build the ultimate war machine out of a rag-tag outdated and under trained military force... Oh how history repeats...
December 7th, 1941 was indeed a day that has lived in infamy. It was a day that changed America's view on war forever.
We dropped the Wheatons off at a resort beach and Michelle, Randy, Cathy (Michelle's parents) and I headed towards the harbor. I was looking forward to spending some quality time with them and having the chance to get to know them better. We stopped at a little Schooner restaurant that overlooked the harbor for lunch before we headed in.
I knew this experience would be heavy. I have spent far more time than I care to admit studying war so I knew that actually seeing this place with my own eyes would be a heavy emotional punch... But I was not expecting it to hit me as hard as it did.
We walked through the security stand at the entrance and I was expecting a zoo of tourists, but being that It was a weekday in the middle of winter we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
We walked up to the ticket booth to see if we could get a few tickets to board the USS Arizona Memorial and the girl behind the counter told us there were a few tickets left and that the movie we had to watch before heading over was going to start in about 20 minutes. This gave us some time to roam around.
I had a weird sense of excitement walking in. I felt like I was a kid at my favorite museum. I quickly walked to a display of torpedoes and missiles to the right and made my way to the submarine that was sitting idle in the water. If you wanted you could pay money to board and explore. Being claustrophobic - no thanks. I've been on a submarine before... Not for me. It was cool to look at though. There were plaques along the shore that told the heroic battles that this sub had endured.
As I looked around trying to take everything in, I noticed the famous anchor that was on display. The anchor that was recovered from the USS Arizona after it had sank. When I walked up to it there was a family of about 6 (4 young children) climbing all over the anchor and laughing and posing for pictures. It infuriated me. I'm standing there - reading the plaques and waiting to take my own picture and they are treating this iconic memorial of the deaths of hundreds of people as a playground. I don't know why it bothered me so much but it did. Mom and dad got a stern glare or two from me before they finally went on their way.
After I had gotten my fill at the anchor I walked down the shore line that overlooked the water. I was littered with different informational and memorial plaques. Most of them telling me things I already knew - but for some reason I still read every word I could find. Taking in the information in the exact place where it happened is a different feeling.
I sat down on a bench near by to change my film and when I looked up I saw in front of me a plaque bolted to a concrete retainer. It read - "Few islanders slept that night... Outdoors there was silence... Shortly before midnight, the moon began to rise, and a vivid lunar rainbow, the old Hawaiian omen for victory arched over the dark city."
This is the moment that everything sank in.
I was sitting in the exact spot where the United States entered one of the most famous wars in world history. A war that has fascinated me for the majority of my intellectual life. I have read countless accounts and watched countless documentaries reliving this event and finally found myself overlooking the very waters where it all took place. A powerful sadness overwhelmed me and it took me a minute or two to shake it.
The time finally came for us to enter the theatre and watch the short documentary before we boarded the ferry that would take us to the USS Arizona. Like I said, I've seen dozens and dozens for documentaries reliving this historic day. But for some reason this one hit hard and I found myself holding back tears towards the end.
After the video was over we boarded our ferry and putted our way across the harbor to the USS Arizona memorial that sat on top of the remains of the sunken battleship.
Once we got to the memorial yet another powerful sadness swept through me. I waited my turn to stand at the railing and look down at the sunken ship. Usually in these situations I am the only one in my party that is fascinated by this kind of stuff. But it was nice to have Michelle's dad there for a change - someone to share my fascination with.
It was hard to stomach. Knowing the bodies of a lot of the sailors were still down there. Trapped in the ship that took their lives.
The guide told us that some of the sailers lived up to six days trapped in the submerged ship because of air pockets. But they eventually ran out of air. She told us that every attempt to rescue them was futile because of how mangled the ship was. Divers would go down and never come back. Heartbreaking to hear while you're standing over their tomb.
At the end of the memorial was a room with a wall dedicated to the names of every sailor that died on the ship. It was a dark room and hard to stand in for very long. I took a few photos, tipped my hat and walked back out to the main area.
Shortly after we all got our fill of the USS Arizona it was time to board our ferry and head back.
We still had some time left before we had to go pick up The Wheaton's from their resort day so we decided to go see the USS Missouri, where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed in 1945. Being that this ship was used in active duty until 1992, a lot of the stuff on this ship was a little more modern than a ship that would have been used in WWII. But it was still awesome to walk around and nerd out with Michelle's dad.
They all but kicked us off the boat. We stayed on, walking around all the small hallways and bunk rooms until the ship closed to visitors.
It was an emotionally treacherous day. The excitement of visiting a place I had only seen in books and on TV, getting to stand in the very place where our nation entered one of the worlds most famous and deadly wars in history. And feeling an unexpected sorrow and heaviness at the same time. But being a war nerd, this was a day that I will not soon forget. Learning so much about how unprepared we were to go to war, but how the nation rose to the occasion as we have so many times in our history.
If you ever have the opportunity to see this place with your own eyes, I highly recommend it. It truly puts modern war into perspective. It's powerful stuff.