Sunday, December 4, 2016

December 7th 1941, 7:48am, "a day which will live in infamy".

Exactly SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO this Wednesday, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. There are very few survivors left from that calamitous event in our history, and with every anniversary that passes there are fewer still. As a sailor in the US Navy I was stationed at Pearl Harbor twice: 1984-1987 and again from 1991-1994 when I retired. I came back years later with Jeannie (after she finished college) in 2001, and we bought a condo in Aiea which we still have today (it's about a 5 minute drive to Aloha Stadium where the NFL Pro Bowl is played every year, and about 10 minutes to Peal Harbor). In 1987 as a young Navy lad I re-enlisted on-board the Arizona Memorial, and one of my treasured mementos is a US flag that was raised on the USS Arizona flag mast (the mast is actually attached to a part of the USS Arizona's structure protruding above the water, where-as the Memorial doesn't touch the ship). My flag proudly sits in our hallway in it's "flag box" along with my retirement "shadow box". Also on the hall wall by the flag is it's certificate of authenticity, stating exactly when it was raised and lowered.

Note: when you re-enlist on the Arizona Memorial it's reserved for just that occasion, there are no tourists allowed (we do it early in the morning before it's open to the public). Myself, my enlisting officer and all my invited guests meet at the Arizona complex across the harbor, and then we are all brought out to the memorial for the ceremony in the same boats that take tourists out. I VIVIDLY recall reciting my enlistment oath on-board the memorial that morning. It's quite a sacred spot, and I swear you can feel the presence of the 1177 sailors and marines who perished on the ship during that horrible morning so long ago, and who are forever entombed below.

An aerial photo of the USS Arizona (not my picture, I copied it from Wikipedia). You can see the boats that are used to shuttle passengers to and from the Arizona docks on the main island (Oahu). You can also see the flagpole (where my flag was raised) rising above the memorial. You can also see the ever-present oil slick on the surface of the water drifting away from the ship. They were never able to fully drain all the fuel and oil from the enormous wrecked ship, and it still continually weeps out and the sheen is clearly visible on calm days.

I was stationed in Pearl Harbor during the 50th anniversary of the attack, and remember that it was quite a big thing. There were lots of survivors who made the trip to the island for the remembrances and ceremonies. Boy do I feel old...that 25 years seems SO long ago. I was stationed out on Ford Island for both of my Hawaii Navy "tours", and to get to work we had to take either the Ford Island ferry or a "small boat" (50 foot utility craft) back and forth every day. If you missed your boat or ferry by 30 seconds you were going to be 2 hours late for work. Now there is a lovely bridge that connects Ford Island with Oahu. It leaves Oahu pretty much across the street from the Aloha Stadium, and lands on Ford Island on part of the old 9 hole par-3 golf course, just a stones throw away from the USS Arizona (the golf course is now 7 holes). Just beyond the Arizona floats the USS Missouri, a decommissioned battleship guarding her fallen sister. On the back side of Ford Island still lies the remains of the USS Utah, another of the three ships sunk during the raid that were never repaired (the  battleship Oklahoma is the third, which was actually raised but was too damaged to be repaired).

Most people don't know about the Utah as there's no touristy trip getting you to it's small memorial, and Ford Island is off limits to civilians being as it's part of Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Yet there she remains, out of the limelight, lying on her side with just small areas sticking up out of the water.

This is a panorama I made of the Utah. The land you see in the background is the Pearl City Peninsula. You can't really see them, but there are some Navy docks which we frequently used during my USNS ship-days (after I retired from active duty I sailed these ships for 7 years as a civilian). The peninsula also hosts a large Navy family housing complex.

This is the Utah memorial which most people have never seen. It's actually built out over the water on a concrete walkway from Ford Island, but it's not actually over the ship like the Arizona Memorial. Just above the memorial plaques you can see the Utah further out in the harbor.

 On-board the Battleship Missouri. This plaque is set into the deck commemorating the spot where the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

 This is the view from the Bridge of the Mighty MO as she guards her sister. Behind the Arizona you can see the new bridge to Ford Island (I'll always call it the "new bridge" even though it's probably been there at least 15 years, due to the fact that I never got to use it in either of my two tours on Ford Island). In the upper right you can see Aloha Stadium. To the upper left there is a group of high rise of the shorter brown/tan ones is The Park at Pearl (where our condo is...which we still own). And the city you see is Aiea, with Pearl City to the left.

Yours truly standing below the "BIG GUNS" of one of the three turrets on the MO. Those guns are RIDICULOUS in size, the barrels are 16" in internal diameter. The Navy had to actually recruit a special group of guys to inspect the inside of the barrels (guys whose shoulders were less than 16" wide, so that they could tie a rope to their feet and slide them down inside the barrels head-first looking for damage).

This really says all there is to say about our Battleships "BIG GUNS". Wow...just WOW!

Here's a zoomed view from the fantail (back) of the Missouri looking at the building I worked in during my first tour (Naval Oceanographic Processing Facility, or NOPF for short). It's the white building that has a single horizontal row of windows near the top (that part is new from when I worked there). You can see the large microwave tower sticking up from behind the building. Those white things in the water are the "quays" for mooring of the battleships.

This is the building I worked in during my 2nd tour, Command Oceanographic Systems Pacific (COSP), which was later changed to Command Undersea Surveillance Pacific (CUSP) after our 'mission' was declassified. My office was just inside that doorway at the top of the stairs on the 2nd floor. NOPF (from the prior picture) is to the far left of this picture only partly visible (the part that has no windows). You can see the bottom of the microwave tower that goes up from between the two buildings.

This is a Pearl Harbor panorama I put together. The individual shots were taken from the balcony of a condo building (the Leli Pono) in Pearl City where we were looking at units to buy before we found and bought into The Park at Pearl. You can see Ford Island in the middle of the harbor, and the bridge going off to the left.

 This is one of the shots I used to make my panorama. To the left side you can see Aloha Stadium (brown and yellow), and behind THAT in the FAR background you can actually see the tall buildings of Honolulu and behind them is the Diamond Head volcano sticking up above the city.

In this second shot of my panorama you can see where the bridge to Ford Island lands, and just above that is the USS Arizona Memorial. And then pretty much directly across Ford Island from the Arizona lies the USS Utah peeking out of the water (on the right side of Ford Island, tho not really visible in this picture but it's me!).

Here's another picture I copied from Wikipedia showing the order of the battleships in "Battleship Row". However this picture is a modern shot, as it has the bridge to Ford island. If you look just below the California's mooring position on ford Island, that is where both my work buildings were located at.

And finally, another picture I downloaded from Wikipedia. This one is a black and white that was taken from an attacking Japanese plane showing Ford Island during the opening moments of the attack. The big whoosh of water on the far side of Ford Island is a torpedo hitting the Battleship West Virginia. Along with the West Virginia you can see all of Battleship Row on the far side of the island (per the photo before this one you can see that the Arizona is the 2nd from the left in Battleship Row). On the left side of Ford Island you can see more ships moored, one of them being the Utah (not sure which one).

And yet ANOTHER fantastic picture I got from Wikipedia. Not even going to try to talk about this one, instead here is their description: 
"Aerial view of "Battleship Row" moorings at Pearl Harbor on the southern side of Ford Island, 10 December 1941, showing damage from the Japanese raid three days earlier. In upper left is the sunken USS California (BB-44), with smaller vessels clustered around her. Diagonally, from left center to lower right are: USS Maryland (BB-46), lightly damaged, with the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard. A barge is alongside Oklahoma, supporting rescue efforts. USS Tennessee (BB-43), lightly damaged, with the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) outboard. USS Arizona (BB-39), sunk, with her hull shattered by the explosion of the magazines below the two forward turrets. Note dark oil streaks on the harbor surface, originating from the sunken battleships."

One of the bigger mistakes the Japanese made that morning was NOT destroying the Pacific Fleet fuel storage depot, which is all those white tanks on the Main base of Pearl Harbor, visible above and to the right of the water plume of the West Virginia. Another of the BIG mistakes was not destroying the Pearl Harbor drydock facilities. Had they been destroyed the Navy would have had to attempt to tow heavily damaged ships to the west coast, which would likely have been very time consuming AND costly (how many of them would have sunk along the way?)  On a side note, the last ship I sailed back in 2003 (the USNS Victorious) was put into drydock in Pearl Harbor. It was a fascinating experience, and the drydock we used was HUGE...big enough to handle the WWII battleships and carriers I believe). Also on a very lucky note for us, there were no aircraft carriers in port that day (which was probably the biggest error of their plan). Destroying the carriers was the primary goal of the attack, and with our carriers intact we were able to take the war across the Pacific, eventually to the Japanese mainland and victory.

That's all the pictures of interest that I have of Hawaii in my travel-laptop (I'm back in Colorado Springs again btw). THE ATTACK on that fateful morning left damage all over the island, and there are bits and pieces saved for posterity. On Ford Island there are still bullet holes from the attacking planes in some of the hangars that are still standing and also on the walls of the main berthing building (just across the street from where I worked). And our little medical building on Ford Island had a bomb go thru the roof and plow into the floor (it wasn't a medical building at that time) but it didn't explode. It was rebuilt and the roof in the middle (where the bomb came thru) was left open so there's a little courtyard inside now, and there's a brass plaque in the floor showing where the bomb was. On Hickam AFB you can still see machine gun bullet holes in the headquarter building.
It was quite a treat to be stationed in Hawaii (TWICE) and to get a feel for what it must have been like all those years ago, to be suddenly attacked with all those casualties. Can you just IMAGINE the insanity early on a Sunday morning if a bunch of warplanes suddenly dropped from the sky and attacked your city, bombing, torpedoing and strafing everything in sight? It's beyond comprehension, and it was certainly a pivotal moment in our nation's history.

So I ask you to take a moment this December 7th to pay tribute to the brave men and women in uniform who were stationed in Hawaii on that awful day so long ago.

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