Of all the places I’ve ever been, few are as inspiring as Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. We all know the story, and we’ve seen the movie, but it is not until one visits the place that the enormity of what happened there really sinks in.
What happened in this place changed the course of World War II, and the history of the world. Looking at the harbour itself, I could almost see and hear the Japanese planes roaring above the water, at 7.55 am on that terrible December 7th, 1941.
On the tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, I was even more awestruck. The tour began with a film that showed the leadup to the Japanese attack, and the actual bombing of Pearl Harbor. There were even film clips taken from Japanese planes, as well as from civilian and military photographers and film makers who were actually there.
The film tells us that five ships and 188 aircraft were destroyed. But the worst statistics were the 2,388 killed. Of these, 1,177 were on one ship alone, the USS Arizona. After the film, we sailed on a navy ferry to the memorial itself. This is an imposing structure, built directly over the sunken battleship, which is still visible beneath the water.
Most of the dead are still in the wreckage of the massive ship, which is essentially a war cemetery. Looking at the huge marble plaque at the far end of the memorial, with the thousand plus names, the enormity of the colossal losses becomes even more intense.
During my six months living in Honolulu, I became good friends with an ex-Navy Lieutenant Commander fighter pilot and his wife. This lady, I found, had been in Pearl Harbor as a child, and witnessed the attack first hand. I sat enthralled on December 7th, 2007, as she recounted her memories of the terrible day it happened.
Then she told me something that made the entire futility and horror of it sink in. Her father was one of the 1,177 men who died on the USS Arizona.
Also at the Pearl Harbor Memorial are other reminders of war, such as special memorial stones for each ship that was destroyed during the Japanese attack.
There is a war museum, and a tour of the USS Missouri. There are relics of the war, including a Japanese torpedo used during the attack. There is the submarine USS Bowfin.
I have visited many war memorials and war sites throughout Australia and the world, just as I have attended many ANZAC Day Dawn Services in Australia, and other war remembrances in different countries. All these have stirred the emotions. There is respect for the brave men and women who took part, some giving their lives. There is also a disapproval for those that started the war, and the war itself, that took so many lives.
But nowhere have I experienced such incredibly strong emotions as those inspired in me by Pearl Harbor, and the story that incredible lady told me.
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