I’m going to admit right here that I’m horrible with history. I remembered enough of it in high school to do well on the tests and promptly forgot it. As an adult I regret not seeing the value of understanding my country’s history. But eh, what does a 16 year old know about a 50 year old woman’s regrets? LOL!
But Pearl Harbor Day has become a personal experience for me that has touched my heart. Ten years ago today, I was in Hawaii visiting Mr. Nina’s great uncle. Though the man wasn’t in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, his boat was the first to arrive in the harbor. I can’t imagine the horrors he saw that day. He doesn’t talk about it.
But the morning of December 7, 1991, he pulled a ballcap out of a box in the hall and reverently placed it on his head. It was embroidered with the name of his ship. He wore it only one day a year. We bundled into his car and parked with all of the other visitors and stood in the very long line with the general public at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Uncle Caesar didn’t think he was anyone special. But as sailors walked by, they stopped and saluted him. Every. Single. One. At one point someone offered to escort him (and his guests) into the VIP area, but he refused. That section was for the real survivors of that day he said.
We sat through the memorial with the rest of the general public. And though I don’t remember the details, I do remember realizing how history was coming to life for me and how moved I was by the number of lives sacrificed that day. We went from there to a small pavilion where plaques for each of the ships and their crews were displayed. Uncle Caesar walked from stone to stone, standing at each for long quiet minutes. I was so moved by the respect the general public offered these men who very obviously were doing the same. I was in tears watching all of this unfold.
We didn’t go out to the memorial. The line was too long and Uncle Caesar and his wife had been out many times. Instead, he drove us to the military base nearby. We drove around looking at the buildings that still stand as a memorial to the attack. Broken windows, scarred brick walls, destruction everywhere. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like on that day. We did stop at one of the lesser known ships that is still in the harbor and spend time there. Uncle Caesar would not talk about that day. He didn’t share what happened when he arrived in the harbor. But I felt it in his solemnity.
I am grateful we got to share this day with a sailor who was actually there. I feel blessed I got live history on that day. Uncle Caesar is still alive and living in Hawaii. His health is not good and though he is not at the memorial today, I have no doubt he is spending time remembering.