May 19, 2008: Pearl Harbor and King Kamehameha
How can you take a trip to Oahu and not see Pearl Harbor? It occurred to us that it might have been especially worthwhile to go there next Monday, which happens to be Memorial Day. Odds are some special activities will take place that day. But we won’t be here then; besides, it’s also certain to be more crowded, and it was quite crowded enough today.
Pearl Harbor is so named because (Surprise!) it was once a rich source of pearl oysters — and even now, you can see pearls from somewhere being sold in the marketplaces of the tourist district in Honolulu. The naval base was established in 1899, and for many years it was just the most enviable assignment a military person could be assigned. The only “war” was between the navy and the army over who got custody of what territory. But the world changed dramatically and abruptly on Sunday Dec. 7, 1941.
Just before 0800 hours that morning, 183 Japanese planes launched from 6 carriers lurking 230 miles to the north bombed the unsuspecting installation, while many sailors were still lounging in their “racks” (bunks). About half an hour later, a second wave of 180 planes struck. American forces detected these planes on radar, but mistook them for U.S. Air Force bombers. A total of 9 American ships were sunk, and 21 were heavily damaged, 3 beyond repair. Some 2390 Americans were killed, including 68 civilians – the youngest victim was just an infant. Roughly half the military losses (1177, to be precise) occurred on a single vessel: the USS Arizona, which sank within seconds of being hit. And just like that, the U.S. found itself embroiled in the latest War to End All Wars.
As for the Arizona, it was left in its resting place on the bottom of the shallow bay. Almost immediately, there was a drive to honor the fallen with some sort of permanent marker at the site. But at first that just meant a flag with a plaque at its base. Finally, the USS Arizona Memorial, designed by Alfred Preis, was completed in 1961. And now, millions of people from around the world come every year to pay their respects.
We were pleased to know that the Memorial has been designated a national park, because we have a National Parks Pass, and we recommend them. For one reasonable annual fee, you can get into any national park, from Yellowstone to Gettysburg to Ford’s Theatre. And we’ve done them all, plus many others. But we were even more pleased to learn that our nifty plastic card is useless today – because admission to the Memorial is free. There are optional guided tours for a fee of a couple of other WWII ships, the USS Bowfin and the USS Missouri, which also was damaged in the attack. But you can see the Arizona Memorial itself without charge, and it only seems fitting.
Taking line #42 on Da Bus (as the locals are most likely to call it), we got off at the entrance to the national park, and promptly learned that heightened security measures prohibit anyone from bringing bags inside. This, we hear, currently even includes shopping bags from the attraction’s own gift shop, a new policy which has caused certain employees to do a bit of kvetching. But not to worry, there is a bag check service available for a mere $3 per bag. We first had lunch on the grass, and then had enough room in our own bags that we were able to consolidate them into one – thereby saving 6 dollars, in case we should decide to have a glass of milk later.
Once inside the entrance, the next step was to wait. And wait and wait. The tour start time that we were given was about two hours after our arrival, so we had plenty of opportunity to browse in the gift shop and the little museum featuring photos, uniforms and memorabilia from the war, as well as video clips about the attack itself. These films, including the 23-minute orientation movie shown in the auditorium before you take your tour, featured some amazing footage of the airstrike shot by the Japanese attackers themselves.
The gift shop also sells a DVD that incorporates an interview with actress Gloria Stuart, who unlike us had the chance not only to go aboard the ship before it was demolished, but to work on it. While starring in the 1934 motion picture Here Comes the Navy (which was nominated for Best Picture) she did some shooting on the Arizona. So there she is on the TV screen in the gift shop, looking young and glamorous and vibrant, smiling as she strolls the deck and greets the crew. Sixty-three years later Stuart, still glamorous and vibrant, received an Academy Award nomination for her role in another movie about a doomed ship: Titanic. [Gloria Stuart died in 2010 at age 100.]
At last we shuffled into the auditorium, watched the poignant little film, and then shuffled out to the shuttle that would take us out on the water to the Memorial. While the Memorial as a whole is under the direction of the National Park Service, the shuttle boat is operated by a band of active navy personnel, young men and women whose parents probably weren’t even alive on that infamous day, looking polished and pristine in their impeccably pressed dress whites.
The Memorial is essentially a covered platform 184 feet long on the water straddling at right angles the Arizona on the bottom, close to its midpoint. Actually, it sits almost directly over the ship’s galley. In addition to a central assembly area that is used for occasional ceremonies, there is a smaller chamber where the names of the victims are engraved on the wall, sorted by branch of service. People can and do lay flowers on a balustrade at the bottom of the wall, and at least a couple of people had laid leis there.
If you want to see the entire outline of the Arizona just below the surface, you’ll need an aerial view. From the observation deck, you can see only a few feet of the rusty hull in any direction, especially when the water is as murky as it was today. But you seem to feel the whole thing resting beneath your feet, and you also seem to feel the presence of her crew.
And they are indeed there. More than 900 of the Arizona’s sailors went down with her, and that’s where they’ve stayed. Dozens of survivors who’ve died over the years have had their ashes placed down there as well, having expressed the desire to be reunited with their shipmates – the most recent was earlier this year. It’s a kind of camaraderie and loyalty that few of us can even fathom, as it were. This is not just a national monument, but a national cemetery, and respectfully hushed conduct was in evidence from all attendees – well, with maybe an exception or two.
Ask just about anyone who’s been here, even many years ago, what most stands out in their minds, and chances are just about everyone will tell you the same thing: the oil. Even after sixty-six and a half years, you still can see little strands of oil bleeding to the surface in a silent SOS and floating away in black ribbons and filmy rainbow patches.
Between 8 and 9 quarts every day, year after year. Assuming that rate has been constant (and it likely was much heavier in the beginning), that’s at least 3100 quarts per year, more than 204,000 quarts (or 51,000 gallons) in all! This, we gather, was fuel grade oil and not just oil for lubrication; the ship had a capacity of 500,000 gallons, so this seepage, which is sometimes referred to as the “tears of the Arizona”, should still have many generations before it runs dry.
The total time spent on the Memorial is only about 13 minutes, but the impression it makes will last a lifetime.
Taking Da Bus back into town (a distance of some 10 miles), we decided to debark at Da Library to pick up one of Da Maps. We didn’t know exactly where it was, but it wasn’t hard to spot the iconic statue of King Kamehameha that the fellow we met last night told us was a reliable marker.
This world-famous sculpture, which actually is one of three similar statues to be found in the islands, honors Hawaii’s first king, Kamehameha I, otherwise known as Kamehameha the Great. (If you think his name is tricky to pronounce, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s really more of a nickname, so you can try his real name instead: Kalani Paiea Wohi o Kaleikini Keali`ikui Kamehameha o `Iolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kunuiakea.) Born in 1737 or 1738, or wait maybe it was 1758, he ruled these islands from around 1780 until his death in 1819. But it was in 1810 that he officially established the Kingdom of Hawaii, which stood for nearly a century before it in turn was conquered by “haoli” (Caucasian) invaders from the U.S. resulting in rulership by a member of the pineapple clan. (In 1993, Congress and President Clinton, only 100 years after the fact, passed a resolution apologizing to the Hawaiian monarchy and declaring its overthrow to be an unlawful act. So there, we’re all square.)
The King’s best known legacy was something called the Law of the Splintered Paddle, which took its name from an incident during his military campaign days, when two fishermen who feared him struck him in the head with a paddle and broke it – the paddle, if not his head. Years later, when he was on the throne, they were brought to him for punishment, but he pardoned them and decreed the Law of the Splintered Paddle, which sought to protect civilians during times of armed conflict, and reportedly saved many thousands of lives. It was the first law of the new Kingdom, and it’s still found in the state constitution. He also saved a few more lives when he ended the practice of human sacrifice (of course, he never had to deal with people who chat on their phones while driving), which previously had been an important part of the native religion.
This statue, interestingly enough, is not the original, but a duplicate made by the same sculptor who crafted the original, which had been lost in a shipwreck on its way here. It later was recovered, and now stands (and points) in the King’s birthplace on The Big Island. This second statue stands and points and poses for photos on the spot originally intended for the first – in front of Ali’iohani Hale, the historic building that was previously the seat of the royal government and then the territorial government, but is now the home of the state Supreme Court. Incidentally the sculptor, Thomas Gould, chose to Europeanize the statue rather than model it after photographs of natives to which he had ready access.
Well, we know a photo op when we see one, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose with The King. And we thought it was preferable to get all three of us in the shot with him; and, having some difficulty setting up the camera so the automatic timer would catch us in a good position, we looked for another tourist to do the honors for us. Fortunately, we saw someone we knew was an excellent prospect: a woman snapping pictures of a little homemade cardboard figure in front of the landmark. We had no idea why she was doing this, but we figured if she could handle cutouts she could handle cutups. So we handed her our camera and she obligingly did an admirable job of capturing the statue and the stooges together; and we daresay that we are at least as photogenic as her paper doll.
We followed The King’s gaze across the street in quest of the library, but we found that he actually was looking at The Royal Palace, another building of historical and architectural significance. Though of very classic (and classy) design, the structure actually was completed only in the 1880′s, in time to serve as a royal residence for only about 10 years before the world came crashing down around it. It was occupied primarily by the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, who among other things was a prolific songwriter. Her best known creation was the quintessential Hawaiian anthem Aloha Oe; if you’ve ever even so much as heard a rumor that a place such as Hawaii exists, then you almost certainly can hum this tune.
The Palace was in the news briefly just a few days ago when it was seized by a radical group calling itself the Hawaii Kingdom Government, headed by a woman who claims to be the heir to the throne. (Her claims apparently were groundless, but don’t quote us on that without consulting an attorney.) We’d been half expecting to see some drama unfolding while we were here, but it all seems to have blown over now. There was no sign of an insurrection, and in fact no sign of anything, since the Palace, which is open for tours most days, is closed on Mondays.
Okay, so we still needed to find the library. So we looked back across the street, and noted that while The King was looking at the Palace, he was pointing to the next building over, so that must be it. We headed over, pausing to admire the banyan trees between the two. A sign nearby said “Please do not climb on the roots”. It’s not every day you see a message like that, at least not in the Contiguous Forty-Eight, but we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore. These trees really do have roots that a person could climb on – long, thick, outcroppings jutting vertically 20 feet or so between the ground and the branches. Next to them was what we call the Wishbone Tree, because that’s what it looks like. Even though it clearly has been pruned back, it still was quite an unusual trunk formation.
Kimberly has been basking in all the flora she’s observing, vegetation she hasn’t seen much of since moving out of the state these many years ago. She has been especially delighted by the aroma of the plentiful plumeria trees we’ve encountered. We also saw one tree that she couldn’t identify, a tree sporting some type of gourd-shaped fruit that we’ve never seen for sale in a supermarket.
Upon finding the library, we picked up one of the transit maps, and then Kimberly decided to drop in on the children’s librarian, and perhaps sow the seeds for a future return to Hawaii in a business capacity. The librarian was very gracious and generous with her time, and ended up talking to Kimberly (and me, who joined her later) until closing time, about 45 minutes later.
Back at our home for the week, Kimberly had to spend some computer time getting an important publicity project ready under a deadline. And then we had to email it, which was impractical to do in our room. It doesn’t have its own wi-fi; the best you can do is pick up one of the stray signals in the neighborhood, which are very weak – we might be able to stay online for 20 minutes by balancing a laptop on our nose while hopping on one foot and flapping our arms. So we lugged our computers to a hotel down the street and sat in their lobby until the cumbersome file had been sent. We hope this will be the last time we have to interrupt this vacation in paradise to tend to business.