yet another melancholy post…

This is the week of somber posts. If this keeps up, I will have to review good movies to lighten the mood. However, one more for the road…

Pearl Harbor has been on my mind since I woke this morning. I grew up in the 70’s, and am embarrassed to say this day did not mean much to me. WW2 was so far removed from us, it seemed… was so long ago, and we had Vietnam to occupy our rage and feelings of helplessness. It was not until I was an adult, in my twenties and on my third trip to the islands that I even made it to Pearl Harbor. The city is a bustling cluster-fluff, like all cities are in Hawaii, and I tended to look for the tiny beach towns to spend my free time in; drinking pina coladas, swimming in the surf and staying away from anything remotely touristy. But something made me go to Pearl that spring day, and it took my breath away.

Being in the military, I was used to pomp and circumstance, and always distanced myself from those who were there out of a deeply driven duty. After all, I had joined to clean up oil spills and enforce cargo regulations, not for any political stance… merely a job for me. On that day in 2006, there happened to be a small ceremony at the Arizona memorial. On the boat ride, I mentioned to a fellow passenger that it was crowded, more than I thought it would be. There were so many older men, vets and their families I assumed. He told me it was because a Pearl Harbor surviving veteran had recently died, and the family worked with the park service to hold a small memorial service. Through the course of our conversation, I got most of the info, and began to feel like an interloper, peeking into a ritual I could not understand, or appreciate. Since it is a public park, there was no way to shut down operations, so this family’s grief and tribute to their loved one was to happen in the midst of tourists, idiots like myself who had a few hours to waste between drinks.

Before the talk, I was being lulled into that dreamy state that only a boat ride in a tropical setting does to me… wind on my face, sun blazing across my back, waves churning from the motor making us dance toward our destination. After we spoke, I sobered up, sat up straight, and realized I was about to see something greater than myself, than all of us, and I had damned well appreciate it.

Docking and grabbing a headset, I began to wander, pushed slightly by throngs of people of every nationality. I was surprised to see so many Japanese people bowed deeply in prayer and respect.  As I am sure most of you know, the memorial is built directly over the sunken hull of the USS Arizona. Gazing down into the crystal clear waters, the murky shape of the battleship was visible in its entirely, oil rising slowly to form a small puddle that some call “tears of the Arizona”… that was when it hit me. We all know sometimes war is inevitable, but rarely are we, as Americans, privy to the reality of what that means. Most of the world has first hand knowledge, living amongst rebuilding efforts that last generations. Here, we are babies, we had our own Civil War, but never have we had to face the destruction of our way of life, in the way that places like France, London, Germany, Chechnya, Greece, Egypt and Croatia have, to name but a few.

I spent several hours that day committing to memory the beauty and desperation that the memorial embodies. I read each and every name on the wall, touched everything I was allowed to, and took a much later boat back than planned. As I watched the curving memorial fade behind me with the setting sun, I thought about my place in this crazy world, and how it is all but chance and luck. The serviceman who died had one last journey to make… His ashes were going to be interred in the wreck below the following day by Navy divers.

It is because of my own pathetic lack of historical connectedness that lead me to develop a deep and real love of life that came before us, and a respect for the way it played out. I made sure my child was not shortchanged in this crucial part of her education, and am happy to report she is an avid devotee of anything historical in nature. We may not be able to change the past, but we can study it, learn form it, and hopefully not make the same mistakes that the generations before us did. We need to learn from their mistakes, and victories, and connect their decisions with our own. In this small way, no one has died in vain, but to a greater good that we can all aspire to.

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  1. Trackback: Two Good Two Be True! | CombatBabe

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