Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” I think this quote sums up the main reason why it is important to visit places like Pearl Harbor. As you may have read previously on the blog I visited Normandy back in 2008. It is amazing how places like these can put in context the sacrifice and hardship that our military men and women faced—and continue to face on a daily basis.
On a sunny afternoon in Honolulu, 24 crewmembers from all over the world piled into a bus to visit the Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This National Monument features sites in Hawaii, California and Alaska. It commemorates American sacrifices in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. After a short ride through metropolitan Honolulu we arrived at Pearl Harbor. A beautiful breeze welcomed us to the waterfront as we began to explore the visitor center and exhibits. Several of us decided to tour the USS Bowfin, a Bolero Class Submarine.
The Bowfin was known as the Pearl Harbor Avenger as she was launched one year to the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor — December 7, 1942. She served in the Pacific and in all of her patrols suffered only one casualty — a leg injury sustained on board. While she was lucky, directly next to Bowfin is a memorial to those ‘on eternal patrol’ which highlights the great sacrifices of the ‘silent service’ of the Navy.
After touring the sub we moved on to the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center and viewed the exhibit explaining the causes and timeline of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. As the breeze wafted in through the partially outdoor exhibit it was easy to imagine the idyllic conditions on the morning of December 7, 1941. Through multi-media presentations, actual artifacts and hands-on activities the visitor center brings that ‘infamous’ morning to life.
We were all holding tickets for the 3:00 pm Navy launch to the Arizona and so we headed to the theatre for the film. Prior to visiting the memorial, the Parks Service shows a film explaining the attack and including actual footage. The film set the stage for what we were about to experience … a memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the blink of an eye.
Before going further I feel I should explain a little more about Arizona for those who do not know the story. On the morning of the attack many of the fleet’s battleships were moored along ‘battleship row’ in Pearl Harbor. Every ship was hit and most sunk to the shallow bottom — many in an upright position. Arizona was not so lucky. A bomb pierced her deck and exploded in her armory. The Arizona exploded and sank very quickly. Over 1,100 men died. Many were just going about their ordinary business, not knowing what was happening a few decks above their heads. All but 3 ships were salvaged and returned to duty. Arizona remains to this day in the spot she sunk on that fateful day in 1941. Many of those 1,100 men are still on board the Arizona and the memorial serves as a headstone for them and a tribute to their sacrifice.
As we stepped off the launch onto the memorial there was a certain feeling of awe at the gravitas of what happened here. While you might think this place would be one of sadness it is not. It is a place of honor and quiet dignity. Tourists bustle about snapping photos, but all with a certain sense of respect for the place. Even as a decommissioned ship in the Navy she is allowed to fly the colors from her mast. That flag serves as a poignant reminder of what these men were willing to do to ensure freedom.
All in all it was a great day. The beautiful weather provided a serene backdrop to experience this unique attraction. Very much like walking on the beaches at Normandy one cannot help but feel a sense of awe for the human drama that unfolded on a day long ago. No matter where you are from or what your beliefs are these places have a way of speaking to you. They are places of honor and places where you have a chance to walk in the footsteps of heroes.
Anthony Garofalo is Zaandam’s human resources manager. He can be contacted at email@example.com.