Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Remembering Pearl Harbor
Much as I've studied about World War II, I never spent a lot of time reading about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For me it was like learning about the Civil or Revolutionary Wars. They happened, of course, on U.S. soil; but so long ago...way before my time.
I suppose it is, in part, my ancestry that led me to focus more on the European Theater instead of the Pacific. To my knowledge, I'm not related to anyone who fought in the Pacific War so I wasn't personally affected. But, aside from that, the Pacific War was confusing. I didn't know why we cared about Japan's invasion of China, or why England fought over Burma, or the significance of the Battle of Midway. Little did I know that one of the main reasons we were dragged into the Pacific War had to do with oil. Hmmm...some things just never change.
Believe it or not, after I read Winds of War and War and Rememberance , I had a better understanding of the Pacific War's nuances than I learned from any history teacher in school; but it wasn't until I had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor last week that I truly felt the loss of the 2,280 military personnel and the 68 civilians who perished 64 years ago today.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is a humbling experience. The National Park Service maintains the landmark meticulously, urging visitors to treat the U.S.S. Arizona with the utmost respect for the shrine it has become. Prior to visiting the memorial, we were led into a theatre to watch an overview of the events leading up to and on December 7, 1941. It was a Sunday morning, just before 8:00 a.m. when a fleet of Japanese pilots flew into Pearl Harbor from three different directions. A second wave ensued and by 9:45 a.m. nineteen naval vessels, including eight battleships were destroyed.
Silence blanketed the theatre after the film had finished and the crowd quietly filed through a corridor and onto a ferry that would bring us to the memorial.
Once aboard the memorial, I couldn't help but think that I was standing above a mass, watery grave of the 1,000 victims who perished on the Arizona. Their names engraved in the shrine room heightened this awareness and my sadness was compounded by reading clusters of the same last name which, according to our guide, was not a coincidence. The Arizona was home to families of servicemen--some brothers, some fathers and sons. But what had affected me most was seeing names of those who had died in 2005, 2001, 1998, and 1982. Those were the men who survived that fateful day but chose to return to the Arizona as their final resting place.
I left the memorial with a heavy sense of sadness and I wondered if, what I felt, had anything to do with experiencing 9/11--not firsthand, of course, but one who became paralyzed by the same fear and terror every other person alive experienced that day. Would I have felt the same emotion about Pearl Harbor had I not lived through an attack on U.S. soil? And will our son view 9/11 as I did Pearl Harbor? Because by the time he's my age, he'll have learned about a tragedy that took place long ago...way before his time.