"" Writer's Wanderings: In Living Tribute

Monday, May 28, 2018

In Living Tribute

 [This was written almost twenty years ago and I believe our trip to Pearl Harbor was even earlier than that. It still brings tears to my eyes when I remember this tender moment.]

             I remember pausing quietly during school for eleven seconds at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour annually on the eleventh of November. Veterans Day is still significant to me. Growing up in the 50s, while World War II was still so fresh and another conflict in Korea was taking place, the importance of remembering that men and women had died defending the ideals of freedom etched certain dates in my mind. December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, is another.

            So, when we decided to visit our son in Australia, we planned a stop in Honolulu, Hawaii, to tour Pearl Harbor. The beautiful weather exceeded our expectations. The luscious landscape surrounded by deep blue waters could not be duplicated on a painter’s canvas. While the scenery invited us to explore its tranquility, the intrigue of Pearl Harbor, one of the world’s most important historical places, demanded that curiosity be satisfied. 

            Standing on the shore, surveying the harbor, it was difficult to imagine the chaos and destruction of that day long ago in December, 1941. I conjured up scenes from movies of the past. It was difficult to equate this pastoral picture with the horror that rained down that day so many years ago.

            While we waited for our turn to make the trip to the monument built over the U.S.S. Arizona, we toured the U.S.S. Bowfin, a World War II submarine, the only “weapon” untouched by the attack. It was nicknamed “the Pearl Harbor avenger”. We wound our way through the narrow compartments and cramped quarters where the Bowfin crew had worked, eaten and slept during nine perilous war patrols.

            When our appointed time came for our trip to the Arizona, we entered the theater to view an informational movie about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Joining us were large groups of Japanese tourists adorned in flowered leis still fresh from their recent arrival at the airport. We sat together and listened to the park ranger speak reverently of the monument we were about to visit.

            Discomfort began to set in as I watched with the Japanese tourists the video presentation explaining the Japanese plot to attack the American naval base. The attack began at 7:55 a.m. with the first bomb being dropped on Wheeler Field. At 8:00 a.m., bullets began to rain down on the duty crew of every ship in Pearl Harbor who had assembled for morning colors and The Star Spangled Banner. Within fifteen minutes, the Japanese had either immobilized or sunk almost the whole U.S. Pacific fleet and disabled the total U.S. air capability on Oahu. Five minutes into the attack, a bomb hit the forward magazine of the U.S.S. Arizona, followed by a spectacular explosion that sent the ship to the bottom trapping more than 1,000 men below the surface.

            I watched movie clips of the bombing, the destruction, the loss of life. Emotions arose in me that I never knew were there. The presence of the Japanese tourists made me uncomfortable. Could I be prejudiced? I never considered the possibility before. All my life I had fought off the prejudicial remarks tossed about by some family members and friends as I grew up. Now, I feared perhaps some had stuck.   What do they feel, I wondered?  Why do they come here?  This is our memorial.  I chided myself. I shouldn’t feel intruded upon, as if the visiting team had entered our locker room. After all, it was our fathers and grandfathers who fought that war, not us. This was not a war of the people sitting in this room. Confused and unsettled I filed out with the crowd to the water taxi avoiding eye contact with anyone. I was embarrassed to think that, as a Christian, I could have harbored such feelings in my heart.

            As we slowly moved toward the small boat that would take us out to the U.S.S. Arizona, there was a hushed silence, even among the children. During the short trip over the water, it was explained again that this was a memorial and we should be respectful. Flowers were the only things allowed to be thrown in the water.

            Arriving at the memorial, the passengers disembarked quietly and, in solemn silence, began to spread out onto the walkways. Many stopped, as we did, to look for a familiar name among those on the list of the men who died.

            We strolled out to the area that stretches over the top of the ship. I stood peering out over the base of gun turret #3, the only part of the ship that remains above water level. A buoy marked the end of the bow and another, the stern. Through the crystal water I could see the silent tomb below. Sadness overcame me.

            Lost in thought, I was unaware of the activity around me. The Japanese had found their way out and wandered among us. As I stared at the huge metal coffin buried beneath the water below, a circle of delicate flowers gently bobbed in ripples of water and floated with the current over the length of the ship. Others soon followed it. One by one, the Japanese tourists removed their flower leis and let them slip quietly into the water. A youngster, barely four, following the lead of his parents, removed his lei but then hesitated for a moment. He looked up at his mother and father, a question drawn on the soft face and in the dark almond eyes. They nodded slightly. It was as if God nodded at me as well. In that tender moment, I released the feelings that had surfaced.

Gently the little boy let the prize that had been his for so brief a time slip into the water. Solemnly the pastel hued flowers glided on the ocean’s surface over the length of the ship. The men they honored had given up their prize also, a prize they held for only a brief time.

            A tear escaped the corner of my eye. The beautiful tribute reached the depth of my spirit and kindled the awareness of our humanity. We are all God’s creation.

            The fight for ideals and freedom this memorial symbolizes is more than mere history. It provides the opportunity for successive generations to come together in peace, remembering that we all belong to the same family of mankind. That while we are all different; we are still very much the same. We all need to receive the prize that was given up on the cross. In living tribute to a living savior, we need to strive together to live in peace, a peace to be entrusted to the soft young faces that look to us for direction.

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