Friday, December 7, 2007

A Day in Pearl Harbor

I wrote this several years ago in remembrance to my experience as a tour guide for the USS Arizona.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Pearl Harbor. Today you're not only a guest of the United States Navy, but also the National Park Service."

I clutched my microphone and steadied my sea legs as the tour boat bounced and swayed. All eyes were focused on the starboard side of the boat, soaking in the beauty of the Island. Just up ahead was the USS Arizona Memorial. The arched white infrastructure loomed closer as our boat clipped and speared through the massive waves.

"Ladies and gentlemen, what actually hit and sank the Arizona was a 1,760 pound armored piercing delayed action bomb that lodged in the aviation fuel storage area, causing such a tremendous chain of explosions that the ship sank in less than 9 minutes!”

I watched the reaction of the civilians as they absorbed this information. Some of my passengers were war veterans, nodding their heads and drinking in the sights. The creases on their foreheads marking the fifty-odd years that spanned since their battles. Pools of memories reflecting from their eyes and the pride from the corners of their mouths as Old Glory swished and swayed from the stern of the boat.

All eyes were upon me as I announced that fateful day when the Arizona sank. The entombment of all those brave men, the fathers, sons, and brothers. I had probably done hundreds of those tours for the Navy, yet I had never come to grips with the realization that I was walking on a grave of a thousand souls.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if you will please remain seated until the boat is secure..."

A short man at the back of the boat was snapping pictures rapidly from his camera. I watched his jet-black hair fan against the wind, and I fought back the prejudice that rose from my throat. How I wanted to reprimand him for stepping foot on MY boat. To ride free on our American tax paid dollars to what? Gloat? What irony it was for him to be allowed to even SEE the Arizona. After all, it was the Japanese that sank our ship, shattering so many dreams and wounding our servicemen and pride. Just the other day, we had to haul off some Japanese tourists that were mocking our flag.

I escorted my passengers onto the dock and watched as they entered the memorial. Cameras began clicking. It was a motley crew of a group. Men in straw hats and Hawaiian floral shirts, probably their first visit to the islands. There were women and cranky children, anxious to stretch their legs and to run for the open space. There were sweet old ladies who wanted to touch my uniform with their hands and to exclaim about how unique it was, that there were women in the Navy. I smiled politely and repositioned my beret.

One lady was in total awe. With amazement her eyes scanned upward at the 184-foot memorial structure and said, “WOW! What part of the ship is this?”

A teenager asked, “Where are the glass elevators that lead to the bottom?”

"Yes sir, the ship is still leaking oil." I confirmed the man's inquiry as we both peered intently over the rail. The rainbow swirls and geometrical patterns floated and bobbed as the waves rocked the pier.

I directed my finger at the ship's tubular mast. A group of passengers were huddling closer as I pointed out the shapes that were casting shadows from below.

One passenger was asking about the beach area. "You are looking at Ford Island." I replied.

It was time to go and I ushered the passengers out of the memorial. Some were still scattered and hesitant to go. I watched the strays that were standing at the wall, reading the names of the dead aloud...searching. The Japanese couple were standing at the railing and peering out at the sea. The man turned and faced me. I stared in wonder at the tears on his cheeks. His wife smiled meekly as they paused at my side. I glanced down at his shirt,
USS Oklahoma, and recognized the name of his ship. I was standing in front of a bona fide American. This Japanese-American man looked into my eyes-unashamedly, his hands extended for mine. I shook his firm grasp and then his wife's. He wanted to talk about the war and the friend's that he had lost. His final trip to pay his respects. He had cancer.

I stared out at the ocean, swallowing the lump in my throat.

Our boat pulled away from the pier and we headed back for the visitor center. I clutched my microphone. I could already see a swarm of people, gathering at the parking lot of the Arizona Memorial. I braced myself for another tour and another walk on the grave. I lifted my face into the wind, closing my eyes and drinking in its heavenly scents. The salt...the wind, carrying voices from its past. I could hear Old Glory, flapping in the wind... with promises for another day.

1 comment:

KreativeMix said...

thanks for sharing :-)