Tuesday, December 7, 2010

69 Years Later

View from Shore
Today is a day that will live in infamy. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, about 25 minutes North of downtown Honolulu (does anyone else find it funny that they can fly planes across the Pacific and drop bombs with serious efficiency yet can't figure out which pedal is the gas and which is the brake in a car?). Today was an especially big deal here. There are memorials and ceremonies going on all over the island commemorating those who died in various parts of the island attack.  The most prominent though was at Pearl Harbor itself.  About 200 survivors and 2,500 members of the public attended the waterfront ceremony and dedication of the new $56 million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and museum. This year’s theme for the Commemoration and Dedication was “A Promise Fulfilled,” focusing on the "creation of new experiences for visitors" at the newly opened "Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument."

USS Arizona Memorial
Most people already know what happened: At 7:55 on the sunny morning of December 7, 1941, 183 Japanese warplanes swooped out of the sky and demolished the US Pacific fleet docked at Pearl Harbor. It was this single catastrophic event, not the invasion of Poland, the Battle of Britain or the persecution of the Jews, that finally dragged the U.S. into World War II.  What you'll learn at the Memorial, though, is the intricate details of the attack.  For example, you'll learn that the way the battleships were organized and docked made them particularly susceptible to attack.  ALL the battleships were lined up right next to each other, in pairs (known as Battleship Row).  The USS Arizona (the famous exhibit at Pearl Harbor) was sunk in 9 minutes. It was over 600ft long and displaced 34,000 tons of water.  Do you know how hard it is to sink a ship that big in 9 minutes?  It sank that fast because one of the 2000-lb bombs broke through the deck and ignited a gun powder reserve tank. The ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives are still buried beneath the water. The memorial itself is a 184-foot-long structure spanning the mid-portion of the sunken battleship and consists of three main sections: (1) the entry and assembly rooms; (2) a central area designed for general observation; and (3) the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall (as well as survivors who asked to be buried with their fallen shipmates).

If you've never been to Pearl Harbor, it is an absolute must-see.  Its humble simplicity and reverence are truly amazing. If you ask people here about going, they're likely to make it sound like a nightmare trip.  They'll say, "ah, it's too late, you'll never make it" or "oh man, that's too far to go unless you leave at 6am."  Tell them to shut up.  Better yet, don't ask anyone.  I have been there several times - on weekdays and weekends - in the middle of the day, and have never had a problem getting a ticket for the next available boat.  When you walk in, go to the information desk and ask for a ticket to the USS Arizona Memorial.  The ticket grants you access to the water taxi (necessary to get to the Memorial) that leaves every 30-45 minutes.  The ticket is free, but there is an optional $6 audio tour that I highly recommend.  There are also two other ships, the USS Missouri Battleship ($20) and USS Bownfin Submarine ($10), which show visitors what the inside of a battleship and submarine are like, including living quarters for sailors.  Before walking over to the water taxi, make sure you stop and listen to the 23-minute video (free) that is on a constant loop. The video describes the morning of the attack with tremendous detail, including the escalation of conflict between the U.S. and Japan that led to the attack. There is also a memorial to all the submarines and crew that died in WWII, which is pretty interesting.  It is all really awe-inspiring and I recommend making the trip.

Names of Those Who Died on the USS Arizona
Here is a video of FDR's speech to Congress asking for a Declaration of War on Dec. 8, 1941.  This is his famous "date which will live in infamy" speech:

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