The Marine at the gate of the Pearl Harbor naval base was polite but firm."
Do you have a military ID?," he asked. "No, we're trying to get
to the USS Arizona memorial,." I said.
Obviously, he'd been through this routine before. My daughter, Leslie, her
boyfriend, Chet, and I were in the wrong place. The Marine snappily gave us
directions. We had missed the correct exit because we thought the sign reading
"USS Arizona Memorial Stadium" was pointing to a sports arena. Must
be two places.
The memorial to the men who died during the Japanese atttack on Pearl Harbor
is about five minutes away from the entrance to the naval base.
The parking lots at the memorial center look like parking lots for the typical
tourist attraction. Rows and rows of cars, tour buses, signs warning to lock
your car -- the operators aren't responsible.
You know, however, that this is no ordinary tourist stop. The tour is free.
The visitors' center has the requisite book and gift shop and a small museum
room. One display a battered shell of an aerial torpedo which hit the USS
Arizona. The information card even gives the name of the Japanese pilot who
fired the devastating missile. Military record keeping is amazing.
When I first looked out at the harbor, there was a moment of surprise.
What I was sub-consciously expecting was the 1941 scene so ingrained over
50 years through the dramatic pictures of the ships burning in the harbor.
But the day was serene. The sky was blue with a bank of white clouds. The
water was calm. Only two military ships were berthed in the harbor instead
of the 130 anchored there on Dec. 7, 1941.On one, a few Marines were on the
deck, listing under the weight of huge duffel bags on their shoulders. The
white memorial floating in the distance.
On the land side the high-rise skyline of Honolulu was towered over by a
After about 30 minutes of wandering around the visitors center and grounds,
it was our turn to go into the theater for a movie.
The lights went out. A deep male voice broke the silence -- along with the
whines of a small boy."Welcome to the USS Arizona memorial. My name is
Charles Johnson, I am one of the survivors of Pearl Harbor on volunteer duty
The mood of the day changes quickly.
The movie begins and the time machine descends. You are finally back to 1941..
There are the young U.S. sailors dancing away the Saturday night before the
attack and hours before their deaths. Japanese admirals gathered around maps
planning the attack. Japanese kamikaze pilots running to their planes on the
way to their deaths. The eerie drone of hundreds of Japanese planes approaching
their target. The body-shaking sound as the ships' ammunition dumps explode.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's historic words as he addresses Congress:
"This is a day that will live in infamy."
By the time the lights come on, the theater is quiet. Even the whining little
boy has been shushed. As the group of about 100 leaves the theater for a waiting
boat, there are tears in many eyes -- Americans and Japanese.
On the short boat ride, a recorded voice informs us that the memorial was
dedicated in 1962 and its architect is Alfred Preis.
"Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous
at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory....The overall
effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit
the individual to contemplate his own personal responses...his innermost feelings,"
Preis once said in explaining his intent.
The memorial is 184-feet long and crosses the midsection of the battleship
barely visible under the water.
It is divided into three sections: a covered entry area; the central observation
area, crisscrossed with six curved arches and seven opening on the sides and
roof; and the covered shrine room where the names of the 1174 crewmen who
died in the attack are engraved in black on a soaring marble wall..
The remains of many of these crewmen are locked in the ship below.
Almost un-noticed in the shrine room -- overshadowed by the names on the
marble wall -- is a smaller marble "bench." On it are inscribed
the names of about a dozen crewmen who survived the attack, died in later
years and have been buried with their shipmates.
To maintain a proper reverence on the memorial, park rangers walk around
asking the visitors to lower their voices.
For most, it is unnesesary. Looking into the water and seeing the oil still
seeping to the surface and to visualize the ship as a massive tomb leaves
you silent with your "innermost thoughts."