Seventy years ago, December 7, 1941, the United States was rocked by the radio announcements that told of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Many historical and remembrance pieces will be written today: stories of history, stories of personal experience - though those will be fewer each year, stories of the reaction in the United States, Japan, the world, even a conspiracy theory or two. Most of the men and women who were old enough to know what was going on are no longer with us. Hopefully, we have heard their stories and remember their messages. I am re-posting my remembrances.
Pearl Harbor Day. A Day That Will Live in Infamy.
What I always will remember is growing up in the shadow of Pearl Harbor - the ever present reminder of how ugly war was. There was nothing noble or gleeful about the awful day. I grew up with the stories of those who were there, stories of people I knew, stories of people who lived through it. As I get older, I can 'see' and 'hear' the stories come alive.
Each Sunday before Pearl Harbor Day, Puna would take us to the Arizona Memorial. Armed with the leis we had strung from the plumeria blossoms on our trees, the family went together. It used to be rather low-key to visit there, and once you got there, quite unusual to have anyone else at the Memorial. There wasn't a Visitor's Center yet. There was no evidence of the Park Service then. Just a guy at the dock that grabbed the little shuttle boat, a Boston Whaler, tied it up and helped you off.
We would walk through the Memorial - our steps echoing in the cavern of the Memorial. Halfway through, we would stop and look at the ship resting beneath us, still leaking oil into the lapping sea, and carrying it ever away, like the spirit was still escaping the doomed craft. We would toss our leis into the water. Eventually, we would end at the Memorial wall, carved with all of the names of the men who died on the Arizona, most of whom were still entombed within.
Puna, this large mountain of a man, would clasp his hands behind him, dip his head in prayer, then focus on the wall and in a hauntingly beautiful, tenor voice would chant the names of the fallen. His voice would echo in the chamber. A more beautiful prayer I have never heard. Once, I looked at his face and saw the tears streaming down, but his voice never wavered. His eyes seemed to be closed, yet he never missed a name.
When the chanting was finished, we would walk back to the overlook on the ship and Puna would tell us about that Sunday morning. He spoke of the noise and the fear and the chaos. He spoke of curfews and rationing. He spoke of the increased military presence on the island. He spoke of the sorrow. And, he spoke of the fear of another attack. Then, he would talk about the uniting and the supporting and the belief in America.
Always, he finished with a warning. America will never be safe from people wanting to take away what we have. They will always want to destroy us, to conquer us, to marginalize us. If you don't believe me, come here and look - open your eyes and look - at what can happen, and will again.
I believe I only saw Puna serious twice a year - Pearl Harbor Day and Memorial Day. On those days, he spoke of bravery and heroism and patriotism. The rest of the year you could depend upon those laughing eyes and the aroma of his pipe. The parents are gone now, but the stories and the emotions remain. I am so grateful for what they shared and what they taught.
I'd like to say that I absorbed it all then, but I didn't. When we used to hike into the mountains and came across some of the crashed Japanese planes, mostly pirated shells, I still didn't get it. When December Seventh was marked at school by people telling their personal experiences, I didn't get it. Oh, I heard it all. I believed it all. I just didn't get it.
It wasn't until I was older and watched the world and global politics that I saw it, that I truly understood the lesson he was trying to teach all those years ago. On September Eleventh, one of the first thoughts I had was of standing in the Arizona Memorial with Puna and hearing his words.
I hope Americans have the resolve to fight for our country as we did in 1941, but I fear for us, now, more than ever.
This is my annual post on Pearl Harbor.