Air Raid Pearl Harbor. This Is Not a Drill.*
I am not a full-blown war buff. But I do have a longtime fascination with the Second World War. For several years during the early nineties, I poured through book after book on the D-Day landings. This was followed by an intense period reading all I could concerning the Holocaust, followed in succession by books on specific WWII battles.
But my focus was always on Europe. The Pacific Theater, for the most part, escaped my attention. One notable exception was author William Manchester’s stunning personal war reflection, “Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War.” A book that is simply brilliant. Beyond that, my knowledge of the War in the Pacific is spotty. Especially compared to friends who built models of “The Flying Tigers” P-40 fighter planes, could easily spout details of specific battles and would give me the raised eyebrow when I couldn’t spot the difference between a cruiser and a destroyer.
I’ve recently wondered if this lack of deeper knowledge is why I’ve never visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. The Memorial is the number one visitor attraction on Oahu and I’ve never been there, despite the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the Hawaiian Islands this past year. One of those trips was planned specifically to visit popular sights and attractions, and I still missed it. How, or perhaps more accurately, why, have I not visited this historical place?
Maybe it’s due in part to rumors of terrific crowds and three-plus hour-long waits. Maybe. But even if true, those are all pretty flimsy excuses; especially coming from someone who has been to Disneyland more than a few times. Having visited several war museums, battlegrounds and memorials across Europe, I have another theory for my absence: I’m avoiding sorrow. Apparently sorrow isn’t what I want from Hawaii.
In all honesty, when in Hawaii, I am beguiled by the sensuality of surf, sand and wind. I am touched by the hospitality of its people and moved by the majesty of the land. Tragedy, loss and destruction? I’d rather not.
But I have decided that way of thinking is wrong, nor is it who I am. Here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, when Memorial Day rolls around, I’m the one who wakes the family up early and drags them off to one of the many memorial services. It’s not a day to sleep in; it’s a day to show support and respect. It’s not about the sorrow; it’s about honoring gallantry and sacrifice.
So, I’ve decided that who I am when I am at home on the mainland, needs to be who I am when I am in Hawaii. Well, at least on this subject .
There are no guarantees in life. But I have one. On my next visit to Honolulu, no matter how luring the beach or how fun the day’s activities, one morning you will find me among the throngs of tourists standing at the USS Arizona Memorial, paying my respects to the brave and the fallen from that most infamous of days. Sorrow, be damned.
*This famous message was sent from the headquarters of Patrol Wing Two, the first senior command post to respond.
Dennis Rockney is a freelance writer, director and photographer who lives in sunny (j/k) Portland, Oregon, but has the good fortune to visit Hawaii several times a year.