Emily and I were fortunate enough to attend the 75th Anniversary National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration on O’ahu three weeks ago. Although there were many events leading up to, and after the December 7th commemoration, we were only interested in attending the main event. Getting an invite to the event was a piece of cake. However, showing up to it was quite the challenge.
Five years ago, I attended the 70th anniversary with a few friends (read about it here). Every year since then, I have received special invitations from the US Department of the Navy to join them for the December 7th ceremony. I have moved and changed addresses, and yet these invitations still show up, with the correct address on them. It’s a bit unnerving, but honestly, I am flattered they even make the effort. This year, when the invite appeared in our mailbox, I mentioned to Emily that I might like to attend. I was on crutches five years ago, so this year’s commemoration promised to be such a better experience.
The morning of December 7th, we left our hotel long before the sun came up, knowing that Honolulu traffic is second only to Los Angeles and that we were heading to the one place everyone else would be visiting as well. Rather than attempt to park in the limited spots at the Arizona Memorial visitors center or at the Naval base, we decided to head right to the parking lot of Aloha Stadium, where they had free shuttles bringing people directly to the visitors center. As we pulled in, we noticed a queue of roughly two-hundred people waiting in line for the complimentary shuttle. We found our way quickly to the end and waited for the shuttle to arrive. While waiting on line, a naval officer came down the line asking if anybody had their invitation or if they were kin to survivors and had special passes. I told him we had invitations for general admission to the event and he asked us to come with him. Emily, myself, and about ten people walked with this sailor towards the front of the line. As we approached the front of the line, there seemed to be some confusion and we stopped, just short of the front. A few officers and sailors were discussing something and it seemed like they were at a loss with what to do with us. All this time, since we parked, until we were in limbo, no shuttles had shown up to take any guests. Slightly concerned, I approached the officer and asked him how far the walk was to the visitors center, which he instructed us that it was about half of a mile. We got directions from him and we decided to head to the visitors center on our own, in the dark.
The walk was brisk, although dark, and with the help of police officers, we got there in a few minutes. The visitors center was already full of people and, after we were searched by security, we proceeded to the information desk. The park ranger at the desk gave us two numbered tickets for our seats and also asked us if we wanted to pick up tickets to go out to the USS Arizona Memorial later in the day. We said yes and were given two tickets to the 11:45 tour.
We went to go find our seats in the same area I remembered from five years ago, but when we got to the seats, we looked around and did not see any podium for the speakers. All we saw were large, flat-screen televisions. Sensing something was seriously wrong, we looked at our invitations again and realized we were at the wrong location. We were supposed to be across the harbor from the visitors center, at a place called Kilo pier. We asked the park ranger if he thought we could make it there in time, but he told us not to even try, that it was a madhouse over there.
If it weren’t for my motivating wife, I might have followed his advice and just gone to our seats to watch the televised speeches. Fortunately, Emily can be very convincing during times of slight panicking. We found a shuttle stop that held the promise of taking us to Kilo pier, but we had about twenty-five minutes before the event began. We waited impatiently for the shuttle to arrive, all the while I was mentally wishing it to appear quickly. As we were waiting, a young lady in front of us, asked her family if she needed her identification to go to Kilo pier. Being on an active naval base, her family told her yes, and she proceeded to run to the car to retrieve it. Immediately, Emily and I looked at each other, crestfallen. Due to security restrictions, no handbags, purses, clutches, satchels, or camera bags were allowed at the ceremony. The invitation made this very clear, as did the signs in the parking lot for the shuttle. So, being the rule followers that we are, Emily had left her bag (with her wallet and I.D.) in the trunk of the car…half a mile away. When the shuttle finally arrived, it was with a sense of high anxiety that we shuffled onboard.
As we approached the entrance to the naval base at Kilo pier, soldiers with mirrors began searching under the shuttle for explosives, and a soldier climbed onboard. He asked to see our invitations, and as I raised ours I realized this was all the identification we needed at this point. A great sense of relief came over me and the weight of the world disappeared from my shoulders. The shuttle dropped us off outside a huge metal hanger, right on the pier against the water’s edge. The line was maybe one-hundred people deep, but we got into the hanger and found a seat before the event began. Once we found our seats, I think I smiled the rest of the day out of pure joy. Not only did we make it to the event in time, but because we went to the wrong place first, we were able to get tickets to visit the Arizona Memorial later in the day.
The commemoration was very well executed. Master of ceremonies, Lieutenant Commander Rob Franklin did an excellent job presiding over the course of events. After welcoming the survivors and attendees, there was a moment of silence observed at the exact time the attack on Pearl Harbor took place 75 years earlier. As the moment of silence was being observed, the destroyer USS Halsey passed in review. Once the Halsey had passed four F-22 Raptors from the US Air Force’s 199th fighter squadron roared overhead in the missing man formation. After the noise of the fighter jets subsided, they proceeded with the presentation of colors, including national anthem, and Hawai’i Pono’i. There was a Hawaiian blessing, as well as a prayer for peace by the Japanese Religious Committee for World Federation.
The speakers that took the stage were; National Park Service Superintendent Jacqueline Ashwell, National Park Service Pacific West Regional Director Laura Joss, Rear Admiral John V. Fuller, and Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr..
All of the speakers spoke of the past and the future. Of honor and sacrifice. Of learning history in order to prevent making the same mistakes.
While Admiral Harris was speaking to the crowd, the—I don’t want to say gentleman…let’s go with inconsiderate prick—the disrespectful, ignorant, douchebag, inconsiderate prick of a human being in front of me decided to take a phone call. Now me, being of the human race, assumed he would simply tell the person on the other end of the phone that he was in the middle of something and he would call them back. Instead, he decided to talk right then and there, and he continued to talk until I couldn’t take it anymore. I put my hand forcefully on his shoulder, and when he looked back I told him to get off the phone or go away. This waste of skin was part of a large group of people, all wearing the same style shirt with the initials NHCSL Hawaii embroidered on the back. When I got home I looked it up, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators had their summit December 6-9th on O’ahu. If that person in indicative of the attitude of the organization, I would guess they won’t be around much longer.
Sorry for the anger tangent there, but that really left a bad taste in my mouth during the commemoration.
After the ceremony, we made our way back to the visitors center at the Valor of the Pacific World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. We were a bit early for our tour start time, so we made our way to the World War II submarine, the USS Bowfin and took a quick tour. I promise to write a blog devoted entirely to the Bowfin soon.
Seventy five years is a long time ago. Most of us will never have to give up their youth to face the horrors of a just war, nor will we begin to understand what an entire generation sacrificed so that we could enjoy our freedoms today. The most important thing we can do to honor those who served our country is to thank them for their service and remember what they lived through.
Attending and witnessing events, such as the 75th anniversary commemoration, is an important way to make sure we understand our world, our nation, our history, our heroes, and our survivors. When we stop remembering the how and the why of tragedies like the attack on Pearl Harbor, we begin to make the same mistakes that thrust our country into a war so many years ago.
Remember Pearl Harbor!