In writing ‘Without Precedent’, I have become acutely aware of how the sacrifice of our servicemen can be forgotten if history is not preserved. By contrast, the story of Pearl Harbor is well known. Through all available mediums, the events of December 7th, 1941 have been revisited, analysed and reported in just about every way imaginable. Yet, to visit the site of that ‘day of infamy’ conveys emotions and thoughts that no amount of special effects will ever capture.
And on that hallowed soil the story of sacrifice is both respected and preserved through a range of memorials and museums. Of these, without argument, the most emotive is the USS Arizona. Arching across the sunken vessel, the pure white monument bears the names of those lost on that day. Beneath the visitors’ feet lies the grave of so many men and one cannot help but feel the loss and sense the sorrow as oil still slips to the surface after more than 75 years. Some say they are the sailors’ tears and who am I to disagree.
Elsewhere, one can wander through museums that recount the day through imagery, anecdotes and artefacts. The USS Bowfish permits a first-hand glimpse into the life of a submariner as the mammoth USS Missouri still stands guard over the sunken Arizona. Visitors can walk upon her historic decks. Decks that have seen a life stretching from just beyond World War One to the conflict in Vietnam. Decks that have survived the ferocious impact of a failed Kamikaze attack and hosted the solemnity of the final surrender signing in Tokyo Bay at the close of the Second World War. If only those decks could speak.
On Ford Island, the orange and white candy-striped tower stands, just as it did on that fateful day when the nearby hangars were strafed and aircraft were set ablaze. Those hangars still carry the bullet holes, but within their walls the story has survived through the Pacific Aviation Museum. A range of aircraft of friend and foe tell the story, not just of Pearl Harbor, but of the Pacific air war. Massive murals and maps detail the conflict and at every turn another first-hand account is related. Some are of veterans and others are of civilian pilots that were caught aloft that day - including the famed Cornelia Fort. Another famed aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, has ties to the Hawaiian Island and her story is also wonderfully presented.
For children young and old, a ‘simulator experience’ is available, but for those anxious to see more real aircraft, there is another hangar full of exhibits. Warbirds young and old, propeller and jet, across numerous conflicts now stand guard in the safety of this historic building. From time to time a veteran sits quietly - a gentleman who was there that fateful day. His words span the divide between a world at war and grasp the attention of all that pause to listen.
Yes, this is all hallowed ground. It calls for one to stop and pause. With eyes closed, imagine the deafening noise, the chaos and the tragedy. And then silently consider the sacrifice with the reverence it deserves. Pearl Harbor is not alone in the world as a site of war’s tragedy and a place to pay tribute, but it is very special in the varied means that it conveys its message. I have been there before and I shall go again. To Pause. To remember.
Lest We Forget.