Until September 11 happened, December 7 was the date that would live in infamy for all Americans. It was the date that innocence was shattered, it was the date that would catapult America into the thick of World War II, fighting that would cost the lives of more than a quarter of a million military men and women. But before American lives were being lost on the battlefields of France and on tiny remote islands in the Pacific, 2300 Americans were killed in a surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The losses were enormous as in addition to the heavy loss of human life, over 1200 people were wounded and four battleships were sunk. The area that suffered the heaviest loss was the USS Arizona. It was hit by an armor-piercing bomb and subsequently exploded and sank, killing a total of 1,177 officers and crewmen. The Arizona was never able to be salvaged and remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1962 and straddles the ship’s hull.
The Arizona Memorial was one of the things I was looking most forward to on my trip to Oahu. But as I mentioned in my post on the USS Missouri, I of course didn’t get to see since it as it’s a National Park Service site and was closed during the Federal Government shutdown.
I came very close to it though as in I could see the memorial.
But the reason most people want to visit is to walk through the memorial, over the ship’s hull and to see the names inscribed of those who lost their lives that day.
At the end of the dock where the Missouri rests, there was a canopy set up where presenters would speak who had some connection to the attack on Pearl Harbor. We came in when a presenter was finishing up but it seems he had either been stationed on the Arizona or one of the other ships that were in Pearl Harbor that day. He was over 90 he said and in a wheel chair but you could tell how passionate he was talking about the attack, more than 70 years later. We then listened to an elderly man who had grown up near to the base and described the attack through the eyes of an 11 year old. How honest his words were as in he thought the planes he saw overhead were just for play, that the bombs being dropped and exploding were fake. Americans on September 11 thought the same at first; you see planes in the sky and would never dream that they would crash into the side of a building.
What was particularly interesting was seeing the markers which denote where the other battleships were situated on the day of the attack. And as you can imagine, with how the ships were situated that day in Battleship Row, they were basically “sitting ducks.”
My paternal grandfather had two brothers, one older and one younger. While he and his older brother joined the army, their youngest brother joined the Navy at the age of 18 in 1944. He ended up going AWOL (absence without leave) two times that year when trying to make it home to see his dying mother (she passed that year). He was threatened with jail time apparently after these incidents and so ended up staying in the Navy for his career. In the remainder of the war, he was stationed on the USS Leyden which was in the North Atlantic and English Channel. Following the war he was stationed on ships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean until he left active duty in 1956.
Although he was not at Pearl Harbor that day or even ever served in Hawaii, I still felt a sort of connection to him the day I visited being in such a “navy” area. I only met “Uncle Andy” a couple of times (sadly, two of them were at funerals) but he was always the nicest and sweetest man. So here’s to you Uncle Andy, your Navy brethren, and all those that were killed on December 7.