Pearl Harbor and Me

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James E. Foehl

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James E. Foehl

“It’s time,” Rose called from the driveway where her toddler sat in his stroller.

I latched my daughter into her stroller and we took off down the street to pay our respects to the dead.

We spent every December 7 for four years together, perched on McGrew Point to await the salute and fly by.

When you live on Pearl Harbor, the events of 71 years ago are the backdrop of your life. I glanced at the Arizona Memorial out my kitchen window every single day. My children played on a grassy knoll across the water from the memorial. They sailed tiny boats past the memorial and more than once rode the launch over in silence.

But on December 7, they attended school, so Rose and I were left with the little ones. Only once in those four years did anyone else join us to watch the Navy remember their dead.

All four years, the morning stretched bright and beautiful, eerily quiet. The occasional call of a bird, the stars and stripes at half-mast on the memorial, an enormous Navy ship gliding silent through the water around Ford Island. The deck was always lined with sailors dressed in white, right arms up in salute.

US Navy photo 2011

US Navy photo 2011

It’s the silence that rests in my mind.Broken only by Taps, poignant and true echoing across the water.

No one spoke a word. Not even us.

Just as the ship reached the memorial each year, we’d hear a low rumble from the south. The air almost seemed to boil with emotion and we looked at each other.

To the far north, the notch in the mountains above Mililani and Schofield Barracks, may have been the direction the Japanese air wave came from, but on memorial day, the planes came from the south.

At 7:55, marking the exact time, the planes arrived.

Five of them, flying low and fast. When they reached the memorial, four continued forward and one turned straight up to the sky going up and up, to signify the dead.

Chilling.

Every time.

We walked home in silence. Remembering.

In 1995, after the ”ceremony” we drove our toddlers to Waikiki Beach, where we witnessed an extraordinary parade.

In remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the US military put on a series of events. On that day, the four of us sat in the sand and watched an armada parade sail the horizon. It was like the old photo of the landing at Normandy, as far as you could see, ships filled the ocean.

They paraded from the east, sailed past a decked out aircraft carrier anchored off shore and we cheered. Destroyers, battleships, cruisers, ships of every type. Allies from that war had sent ships–including the Soviet’s most advanced ship. It must have taken an hour for them to sail past us, and at the very end–our personal favorites–two US submarines.

Chilling.

Exhilirating.

Sobering.

Rose’s father Chet served on a submarine out of Pearl Harbor all through the war. He’s one of the lucky ones. 60% of the subs that deployed out of Pearl never came back. The chapel on the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base remembers a submarine every Sunday, noting the boats are still serving because they never returned.

Chet visited often while we lived in Hawai’i. A strong man who never lost his erect bearing, Chet’s memories were fascinating. Sobering. Chilling.

Just like war.

Only less messy.

That December 7, 1995, we watched President Clinton stand on an aircraft carrier in our backyard and toss a lei of remembrance into Pearl Harbor’s waters. That night my husband put on a dress uniform and we attended the Navy’s ceremony on board the ship. We admired vintage planes, modern planes, elderly sailors, modern sailors and heard music from the 1940s through 1995.

It was an honor to attend and celebrate the”war to end all wars.”

I hope I never have to do anything like that ever again.

Remembering all who lost their lives, this day, and every other day, of World War II.

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5 Comments

  1. Michelle,

    Thank you for sharing that. Very respectful and touching.

    Reply
  2. Beautiful article. We must never forget.

    Reply
  3. One of my earliest memories is my mother telling me about the attack. Her birthday was on the 9th, and they were celebrating it on the Sunday.

    Reply
  4. jan johnson

     /  December 7, 2012

    We will never forget. Thank you Michelle.

    Reply
  5. Rose

     /  December 7, 2013

    Thank you for the beautiful article. Reading it brings me back to our walks and wonderful memories. I will never forget because of the stories I heard from my parents, my mother turned 16 that day and my father who was on a submarine. My father in law was on the Antares that fateful day at the mouth of Pearl Harbor.

    Reply

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