Our trip to Hawaii will be a blog series. So many stories. So many moments. I want each story and each moment to stand out and be remembered.
So I’ll begin the series with our visit to Pearl Harbor.
It was an early morning start, as traffic into Honolulu is some of the worse I’ve ever seen. Crawling along the highway in our tour van, at least we were entertained by the stories of Hawaiian history mixed with some modern-day anecdotes. It took almost an hour and a half to drive just fourteen miles.
A bright rainbow followed us for the last portion of our journey. As we entered the national park, our rainbow continued to hover just over the harbor.
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit now, was because of the dwindling fraternity of survivors still volunteering at the park. With most in their nineties and some even over a hundred, it was a rare and precious opportunity for the girls to get a history lesson from someone who was actually there. That morning, we were lucky enough to meet Mr. Herb Weatherwax. Settled in his motorized scooter, almost ninety-eight years young, he gave us a big smile and stuck out his hand. We were honored to meet him.
He was just twenty-four years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. On the morning of December 7, 1941, he heard the bombs explode along with the firing of anti-aircraft guns. He watched as masses of billowing black smoke filled the morning sky. Ordered to report for duty, he witnessed the USS Arizona engulfed in fire and the USS Oklahoma keeled over on her side. Almost 2,400 people perished that day.
We talked with him for a while, posed for photos, and thanked him for his service. The girls gave him hugs. Later he stamped our tickets with his name. A memorable person who charmed both my children, as well as me. He certainly was the highlight of our day.
We explored the interactive museum. Old radar systems and tracking tools. Interactive videos with vintage film footage. A wide variety of artifacts like the USS Arizona ship’s bell and massive anchor.
We explored the museum freely. At one point, I rounded a corner and found Mia tucked behind a larger exhibit, sitting next to an origami peace sign. She happily played with long strands of colorful paper, not understanding the significance of the statement. She was simply drawn to the place of bright colors. The place which offered peace.
Outside along the boardwalk, we walked amongst thousands of engraved names listed by rank, location, and age. We passed by the missiles, examined a fighter plane, and looked at the USS Bowfin submarine. Pausing by the shoreline, we gazed upon the pristine white USS Arizona memorial floating out in the harbor.
We had timed tickets and 9:15 came around pretty quickly. Accessible only by boat, it was our turn to ride with the US Navy out to USS Arizona. Before boarding, we watched a well-done documentary about that fateful day. As the movie played out, tears stung my eyes as the tragedy was realized. Once on the boat, we passed markers where other ships had fallen. An eerie quiet settled over the group as we pulled up to the dock.
According to the architect, Alfred Preis, the memorial “represents 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.” Two-hundred and eighty-four feet long, the memorial spans the sunken USS Arizona hovering just above the water, never touching the actual ship. Clean geometric lines filled the horizon and the American flag waved proudly from the rooftop.
As we walked through the entry and out into the assembly room, seven large windows greeted us, a symbolic reminder of the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. From every window, the rusted USS Arizona rose out from the waters, whispering her story to us.
Oil leaks swirled around the harbor in a rainbow sheen. But it was Ava, who was the first to notice Arizona’s tears bubbling up. Small black circles of oil appeared on the surface of the water. It was, as if, the ship was crying.
Fish darted in and out of hull, swimming through hallowed ground.
As we walked towards the shrine, a feeling of serenity passed over me. I expected one of sadness, but the design of the memorial is one of peace which fills every corner of the structure. A marble wall quietly beckoned from behind a velvet rope, listing the 1,102 of the sailors and marines who perished that day on the Arizona and still rest within her walls under the sea.
Back in the assembly area, Ava stopped by the docent who was lowering the flag. He offered her the rope. Unaware how special the moment truly was, she lowered the flag over the USS Arizona.
A place of reverence. A place of honor.
Our time was up. Thousands of people visit the Arizona daily, so visits are short. As we pushed off from the dock, we paused to admire the beauty of the memorial once more.
I’m glad we spent the morning visiting this place; honoring those who had fallen and gaining appreciation for those who still serve today.
Don’t miss out on visiting Pearl Harbor, it is a journey worth taking and sharing with your kids.