The first time that I visited I was age 21 years and it left an indelible impression. At the time I was a cadet aspiring to become an Air Force officer, a profession that could lead to a career disaster displayed beneath my feet. The Navy's harbor boat was tied up to a rusted and heat-warped steel platform 15 or 20 feet in diameter. Best I could tell it was what remained of the lookout tower on top of a mast of the battleship USS Arizona. Yes the Arizona that was sunk by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor December the 7th, 1941.
Fifty five years and a lot of miles have passed since that memorable day when I first touched the sacred tomb of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the USS Arizona that day. Then, as now, droplets of bunker oil would occasionally surface to make temporary rainbow hued sheen. Sometimes called "black tears" the tradition is that the oil will come no more when the last survivor of the crew passes.
Many years after my first visit to the Arizona, I was privileged to return to the memorial accompanied by my wife, son, and daughter-in-law. By then the impressive white structure that exists today had been constructed astride and above the great sunken ship. With conditions right, one can clearly see the outline of the ship below. The National Park Service conducts tasteful and instructive tours of the facility. Still, it is a time of hushed, reverent remembrance of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Just this past week a friend forwarded a short note and film clip via the Internet telling of an ongoing tradition. I had not been aware that as those Arizona crewmembers that survived the disastrous explosion and sinking of that great ship have the honorable option of being interned, buried at sea, with their brothers who perished that day. The special ceremony always takes place after the last public tour of the day is completed. Then family and friends of the recently deceased are invited aboard a Navy harbor boat for transportation to the Memorial. The bodies have been cremated and placed in a special watertight urn. Following appropriate ceremony, very military and very crisp, those remains are given to a diver who swims down to the number four gun turret and inserts the urn into the interior of the sunken ship. There those crewmen who had escaped the bombed ship in 1941 and lived to serve in World War II and in many cases to raise families are interred for eternity in the company of their fallen shipmates.
Knowing that McCook native Don Schaaf, MHS Class of '55, had served with the Park Service as a tour guide at the USS Arizona Memorial, Grannie Annie forwarded a copy of the Internet posting. Inquiring if he was aware of the little known rendering honors to those surviving crewmembers he responded:
"Yes, I knew about this. As a matter of fact, while I worked at the Memorial I had the privilege of participating in the internment services as part of an honor guard for two former U.S.S. Arizona crew members. Not a dry eye in the place, especially mine."
Don, forever the veteran and patriot continued:
"I was shocked, when about a week later, I received a payment for taking part in the service. I got into a somewhat heated discussion with the then, Superintendent of the Memorial. I refused the payment and the Superintendent said I had to take it. I wouldn't take money for something like that. A compromise was reached when I turned the check over to Arizona Memorial Association. I tried to donate it to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, but apparently there is some kind of legal issue that prohibited that action. Bureaucracy at its finest."
The USS Arizona Memorial still exists but it is no longer a stand-alone memorial. The National Park Service now includes it only as part of a "World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument." In their words the: "World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific War, including the events at Pearl Harbor, the internment of Japanese Americans, the battles in the Aleutians, and the occupation of Japan." In my opinion political correctness run amuck.
I am reminded of my Ann's reaction on attending the USS Arizona Memorial. First thing you are granted a pass -- there is no admission charge. Then a right-sized crowd is assembled in a small theatre with a professional Park Ranger conducting a well done video presentation. Something about World War II.
Then to the boat for the short trip across the harbor to the Memorial. That was when Ann became angry. Pearl sits in a natural bowl, water, verdant shore surrounded by mountains, a beautiful anchorage in a huge ocean. That was the problem. Why in the world would the Admiral allow our battleships to be tied up in neat rows; perfect targets for the Japanese pilots? Dumb! Well at the time we weren't at war with the Japanese and the Admiral got fired. Sinking our ships was the catalyst that officially kicked off World War II.
For me, the USS Arizona Memorial is all about paying tribute to the young men that gave up their lives that fateful morning those many years ago. It shouldn't be a political statement at all, but in typical liberal fashion, they waste no chance to bend history to reflect their spin on how the world was and should be.
That is how I saw it.