Beau December 7th, 2009
I think winter has finally arrived, perhaps a little early. A week ago I was working outside in a t-shirt and yesterday I couldn’t pick up a waterlogged sandbag because it was frozen solid! That’s okay, we did pretty well this fall with a long period of warm weather. I’m thankful to have finished what I could, and lately it has been clean-up time around the property.
Today is Pearl Harbor Day here in America, which for too many people is quickly becoming a forgotten day of remembrance. It seems like a long time ago however, and our Greatest Generation have been leaving us too quickly in recent years. Still there are stories and a sense of awe when you think of what took place, and how America was thrust into the war so quickly afterward.
I’m a Navy man, and will probably always remember this day. I lived in Japan for several years. It’s a beautiful country with a proud, wonderful people. I really enjoyed my time there, as did my wife and son – they lived there while I was deployed, just a few years ago really. The young boy was there for much of his first three years and even spoke Japanese for a time (he loves sushi to this day). I worked with the Japanese military first-hand, and grew to respect the people and their nation’s journey- they are great friends and allies.
It wasn’t alway so of course, as with so much of world history. Looking back, I have to admit that Pearl Harbor didn’t mean much to me while growing up. It was the past… twenty or thirty years seems like ancient history to a kid. As I grow older it seems like yesterday.
The navy changed my view of Pearl Harbor, literally, on one particular beautiful, sunny morning. I was returning from deployment to the Persian Gulf on board USS Nimitz in June of 1993. We were stopping in Hawaii for a few days enroute home. I had not been to Hawaii before, and was excited when I realized we would make our way to Pearl. One of the long traditions the navy shares is that upon arrival at a visiting port, it’s appropriate to render honors of various kinds, and to look shipshape… that was especially true while coming into Pearl Harbor (headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet). After cleaning and shining things up for what seems like days on end (and throwing fresh gray paint everywhere) one of the sharpest looking things a ship can do is to have the crew “man the rails.”
We fell out that morning in our “tropical whites” or the nice looking white uniforms that sailors wear (and promptly end up getting grease all over). It doesn’t take the whole crew of more than five thousand on an aircraft carrier to man the rails (or edge of the carrier deck), so the leadership designates who will do so. Many of us volunteer for the opportunity, considering it a privilege. I’ve manned the rails many times before, usually pulling in to some exotic port far across the seas with quite a different mindset. But I never came in to Pearl Harbor standing on the deck of a ship except on that one occasion.
Hundreds of sailors in bright white uniforms filed up on deck about an hour out of port. There we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, as the deep blue sea changed to beautiful aquamarine with white sands and island green looming ahead. I was standing on the port bow, and as we came in the entrance to the harbor everything was silent. The massive aircraft carrier, laden with aircraft, men and women, moved quietly through the water at a very slow speed. There was no conversation among the troops on deck, and I was struck by how narrow the passage was.
I felt like I could throw a baseball to either shoreline from the deck of the carrier- it was that narrow. And as I looked ahead to how small the harbor and navy shipyard really was, I began to understand how the attack on Pearl Harbor must have been so horrific, and how trying to get some… any… of those ships out through the narrow entrance was a major priority.
As the harbor began to broaden, ahead and to the left I watched as the white memorial to the USS Arizona came into view, just a few hundred yards away, with its flag held high. I remember the warm breeze, blowing gently across the deck, and the only sound that of small waves splashing against the bow. It was peaceful and calm. I wondered about the contrast to so many years before.
As we approached closer the command “Attention!” came over the 5MC on deck, and then “Hand salute!”
We stood at attention for a good minute or two, maybe longer. It was hard to imagine what took place there, or that 1,102 men of the 1,177 killed just on the USS Arizona that long ago morning still lay inside the ship, beneath the calm blue waters. It was a solemn, respectful occasion, and an opportunity to better understand what Pearl Harbor meant in our nation’s history.
I didn’t have a picture of that morning, but the one above from the USS Ronald Reagan was taken just over a year ago. I’m glad to see we still man the rails and render honors to the fallen as ships pass by the USS Arizona. I’m glad we still remember the events long ago at Pearl Harbor.