Pearl Harbour National Park & USS Arizona Memorial: War History in Perspective

It was around 7:00am and I was already heading my way to the pick up point for my Pearl Harbour trip. I usually sleep in a little later, (hey, I’m on vacation, right?) but it was crucial I do not miss my trip today.

This is one trip I had anticipated for quite some time as I planned my Hawaiian trip.
I had read and learnt about the world war history in textbooks and through many famous movie and documentaries, but to know that I was about to step foot onto the land that an important moment in history took place made me nervous.

 

Luckily, I had my chaperone. My chaperone for the day would be Roberts Hawaii.
I did do my research before hand and I do know about the mixed reviews of Roberts Hawaii.
However, in short, I had a pleasant experience with them

The experience of booking this trip does have a story on its own, which I will tell in another blog post in the future.

 

I never like wars.
I never liked war history.
In my opinion, wars are a result of greed.
And their followers allow this greed to be fed.The people who fight for them are innocent people that sacrificed their lives in exchange for that trust they had given to their leader.
And exactly what did they gotten in return for their trust?
A promise of peace? More land for prosperity?
I don’t think so.
If greed is on the table, the leader was only thinking of its own benefits.
Any promises from their mouth were simply empty and meaningless.In my opinion, that greedy leader is just a good-for-nothing scoundrel.

Pearl Harbour

You would question, since I hate wars, why bother visiting a war memorial?
Well, something about Pearl Harbour just tugs my heartstrings.

One could argue the entertainment world or the mass media has created a huge hype about this place by transforming this slice of history into an romantic epic.
Some could argue it wasn’t just about the war from the opponent’s point of view but from the Hawaiian side, the more human stories behind the place. It’s just like you have to cut the ugly decorated cake to see the most beautiful rainbow cake layers inside.
Another reason for me to visit Pearl Harbour was because I really wanted to see this place with my own eyes, to hear the stories from the survivors with my own ears and to feel the sadness with my own heart… ( and maybe contemplate later why Singapore couldn’t made me felt the same (in presentation of course) for our own history).
Of course, not to forget, Singapore herself is actually in the same frame here at Pearl Harbour!
When the park marshals and even when our guide asked where I was from, the reply ‘Singapore’ just gave them a tingling feeling (or I had imagined all of them to have, but I knew one stranger I spoke to did physically felt that way) as Singapore herself has her rightful place on their walls.

I have been to quite a few exhibitions in Singapore but as I was walking through the galleries here in Honolulu, I could sense the crowd that comes to visit the Pearl Harbour ain’t the curious bunch where normal folks would just walk, read and breeze through the galleries.

The audience were genuinely interested in understanding the war itself. They really take the time to study very exhibit and as if through thorough investigation, finding some answers to their burning question.

Whilst in the galleries, I also spotted this display sign in front of the exhibit above.
On close inspection, this entire metal board is marked with braille. From the image to the explanation, all of what was displayed on the wall was translated onto this metal plate. It was really heartwarming and I am impressed how much details that the museum had thought through to provide for people with special needs.

Here is another explanatory sign that talks about torpedos. It is also embossed and braille.
The diagram really struck me when I noticed how the torpedo works.
The missiles would dip then lifted out from the water to blast the airplane.

However, I guess this whole process would be in a blink of an eye.
Okay, in another words, I guess the guys would find this more fascinating or on the other extreme, boring than I do, afterall, it’s all about the big guns and big bombs.

I like models. One of the models I was most impressed by was the one on Titanic in Mystics. The details on these masterpiece depicts the actual historical artifact in small scale so not only we could have an aerial view of it, it was a slice of history in 3D.

In Honolulu, the Japanese airplane carrier was the one that caught my attention. While airplane carriers are typically flat surface, it was the little Japanese human figures and their fighter planes made the icing on the cake.

Necessity is really the mother of invention.
If there isn’t a need to carry so much airplanes, there won’t be an invention of a airplane carrier ship with a launch pad built on it.

The cruelty of the war was subtlety presented but the stories impact many straight in the face.
May207But yet, pride remains deep in our veins.
Be it the Americans, the Japanese or everyone else in between, the reason for and of pride exists.
And that is evident as you can never find a Japanese in the Pearl Harbour Naval Base Museum.

I saw Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexicans, British, Singaporean (myself!), Americans, Australians and I even spotted a young Korean couple, but I did not see any Japanese.
I find it an irony since the other part of the Hawaiian Island are full of them.

I am not in the best position to make a conclusion out of this statement, but as an observer, I could only conclude that pride rules over knowledge/understanding.
Criticize me if I am wrong, I would love to hear another side of the story.

For someone like me who have not lived through the war period (and I hope I never will) I could only learn to be understanding of the people around me; and the lesson of the war — greed and pride, not be a trait I carry but a weakness I discard.

 

We were all walking through the galleries while waiting for our allotted time for a video screening.
I cannot remember what the video was exactly about but vaguely remember it was a tribute video for the fallen heroes of Pearl Harbour and the history of the place as well as the memorial.

While the stories of the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma played on the screen, I couldn’t helped but notice some men along my row of seats lifted their finger to their eyes to wipe away a silent tear.

I could feel their passion and respect to these fallen soldiers which I may never be able to relate.

After the video, the hall was silent.
Everyone made no sound nor speak a word as we headed to the dock to board the ferry that would bring us to the USS Arizona memorial in the distance ahead.

The only sounds there were were the water sprays and the blowing wind, and the engine that roar as it sped across the calm waters.

The ferry ride was a plain simple one, yet it seems symbolic.
Its as if family members go to a memorial to pay their respects. And the journey they need to get there.
It did felt like this for me.

The white box-like memorial loomed in front of us as we were approaching the dock. Visitors were clicking their cameras away (as I did too) on this spectacular structure of the memorial.

The memorial initial concept was a floating bridge above the sunken ship as instructed by the US Navy. The architecture design represented the height of American pride before the war, the sudden depression of a nation after the attack and the rise of American power to new heights after the war.

Flag Pole with the American flag flying

7 windows on each side to represent each day of the week of the Pearl Harbour attack.
The flag pole still stands on the actual flag mast of the ship.

The silence continued on the bridge. In an anti-clockwise circle, the visitors would move one round in the memorial and they would be picked up by the next ferry while the ferry load up the next batch of visitors onto the memorial.
The memorial is made up of an entryway, the bridge (as you can see from the above picture) and a shrine with a marble wall with all the fallen soldiers name carved upon.

In front of the shrine there were two long pedestal with names of survivors whom had passed later on who had decided to have their ashes interred ( a ceremony where the deceased soldier ashes would be sealed in a canister and finally placed to rest inside the hull of the ship by a US Naval diver).

I could only say these soldiers are really united that when they passed, they chose to ‘go home’ to their fallen brothers.

Exposed part of the sunken ship

There is an interesting phenomenon happening at USS Arizona. Oil leaks rising from the sunken battleship, can still be seen on the water surface. They are referred to the tears of Arizona or black tears.

Our guide has a retiree friend, whom he affectionately refer to as ‘Cousin Herps’; a soldier survivor of USS Arizona. He had recounted a story when he was chatting with him one day at the park while waiting for his group of visitors to complete their Pearl Harbour Tour.

A tourist had came up to him and ask about the oil leaks.
“It’s still leaking…will it ever stop?” She asked the retiree.
“The oil still leaking, they are teardrops. The mates calling out to all surviving mates..But don’t be surprised when the last comrade falls, the oil stops.” He said simply.

The last sentence send shivers down my spine.
His comrades cries for them, and when the last one falls, the tears stop.

Sacrifices of the past for the sake of the future

I took this shot above when I taught about the sacrifices the soldiers made for the future ahead.
I remain grateful that I was born in the era of peace, although relative, still, I’m grateful I did not have to face the horrors of the war in my life.

There is a small opening on the bridge where we could look down to the sunken battleship below the bride and this coral-covered part of the ship hull did bring a smile on my face.

The sunken ship, although had carried deaths of many soldiers, but today, it brings life to the marine ecology in the naval base. The colourful coral and beautiful fishes symbolises life.

“As the sorrow begins to fade, it brings faith, and life.”

I’m not a very religious person, but the scene did spark something in me and I really want to mention that.

I could imagine the smiles of the soldiers’ face as they became the catalyst for the abundance of marine life that surrounds the USS Arizona.

The architect designed the architecture to omit the overwhelming sadness so to let the individual self-reflect and the overall effect of the white was serenity.

When I was standing there in the memorial, overlooking at the sunken battleship, I see life sprung around the once heavy hearted.
In the midst of that silence, with only the sound of wind caressing my face and the waters lapping against the structure, I felt the warmth of the sun, and the sparkles it make like million of diamonds sparkle on the water surface, I truly felt serenity.

It was like,
everything in life was forgiven,
everything in life was at peace.

A replica of the how the memorial looked like above and underwater

 

Here’s a short clip I have made for my trip at Pearl Harbour:

 

For more information on Pearl Harbour:

http://www.nps.gov/valr/index.htm
http://www.pacifichistoricparks.org/phh_park_info.php

The admission to Pearl Harbour National Park and the musuems are free.

However, according to the tour guide, they give only a limited number of passes a day.
If you wish to do this tour on your own, be prepared to go there early to queue for your passes.

You can also book those tickets online (through the website above) with a fee of $1.50 and you can collect them at the entrance.

Also note that this national park has a no bag policy, not even a pouch/fanny pack.
So it’s best to only bring money in your pocket and your camera in hand.

Do take on the audio guide when you do your tour in Pearl Harbour. It is only USD6 (as at 2013). It is very worthwhile as the guide will tell you all the stories along the way. There won’t be a guided tour, so the audio guide is a must-take.

Since the park admission is free, all proceeds of the loan of the audio guide goes back to the maintenance of the park. The park is overall maintained by the donation from the public and sales of their souvenirs.

More stories soon,

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