(USS Arizona Memorial, Aerial View)
Earlier this month, I had the chance to visit Hawaii, specifically the island of O’ahu. I’d never been there before and hadn’t anticipated the large mass of people visiting Waikiki. I’m a county girl now, and I enjoy my calm, laid-back lifestyle, so being in a big city isn’t easy for me anymore. I don’t do very well around large crowds of people. Usually I end up looking like a scared bunny until someone heckles me with the wares they’re hocking, turning scared bunny into angry bunny.
There’s a lot to see in Waikiki, and I made many lasting memories during my time there, but nothing will stick with me more than the day I visited Pearl Harbor. From the moment I checked my bag and walked through the gate, I felt a somber sense of gratitude and pride for my country. The last time I felt that kind of passion was during my visit to Ground Zero a couple months after 9-11.
Before touring the USS Arizona Memorial, I walked through the different museums, looking at artifacts, and stopping to watch a historical video depicting real footage from the day of the attack. I stood in the doorway, my eyes glued to the screen, watching in horror as several bombs fell to the ground, destroying everything in their path. In that moment, I teared up. Not everyone felt as I did, though. In the fourth row, a group of men pointed and laughed. They weren’t American. They felt differently. The film continued. The bombing was over. I was now watching the aftermath. It’s one thing to hear about it, it’s another to see it play out on a movie screen. The men in the fourth row smiled, looking at one another like they wanted to give high fives. At that point, I’d had enough. I walked out.
About an hour later, I sat in an auditorium waiting for a boat to take my mother and me over to the USS Arizona Memorial. A female tour guide shared some historical information and made one request; she asked everyone to behave in a respectful manner once they got inside the building. She said the memorial center was no different than a cemetery, and that it should be treated as such. We were counseled to lower our voices, showing consideration to the fallen ones.
For those of you who don’t know, the USS Arizona is a battleship that sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is the final resting place of 1,102 sailors who remain inside. Also aboard that tragic day was 1.4 million gallons of fuel. Even after all this time, around nine quarts of fuel still surfaces every day. Survivors refer to it as “Black Tears.”
From inside the memorial building, the battleship sits right below the surface in all its grandeur and magnificence. I peeked out the open window, almost feeling like I could reach out and touch the rusty exterior. Over the next several moments I had the overwhelming sense that I had become part of something sacred. The voices of others around me evaporated, making me feel like I was the only one there. It wasn’t until I turned around that I noticed a few groups of people in the room had resorted to laughter, joking and treating the building like it was nothing more than a packed football stadium. What happened to behaving in a respectful manner? As they glanced in my direction, one of the groups understood my opinion about their thoughtless behavior. I didn’t have to say a word. I never do. My facial expressions always give me away. They’re like the gift that keeps on giving. One member of the group said something to another in a language I didn’t understand, and then they all walked toward the boat that would ferry us back over to the museum.
I respect all people from all walks of life. I teach my children to judge others according to their actions, not by their color or where they come from. Sometimes I forget that not everyone feels this way. A death is a death, and in most instances, it should be a reminder to us that we are all part of humankind. War is unfortunate, and I find myself wishing it could be another way. World peace seems impossible sometimes, but I can’t help thinking about how nice it would be. Until then, I leave you with this: Eventually we will all pass on from this life. If we’re lucky, people will visit our graves, remembering a life that was once lived and a time that has long since passed. When someone visits you one day, how would you like to be remembered?