A few years back, maybe 30 or so, I was sent back to the U.S. on a recruiting trip. To my delight one of the prospects was a Marine stationed at Pearl.
Heiney, my partner and best friend, was scheduled to go with me. My parents kept a condo in Waikiki on Tusitalia overlooking the Alowei Canal so we had a private place to stay – there was no doubt a good time would be had by all.
The phone rang within an hour of arriving at the condo and we were invited to a BBQ out on Ford Island. An old family friend kept the keys to my parent’s condo, so I knew there would be an obligation to visit with her and her husband at least once while on the island.
When I say “old family friend,” I mean old enough that it was a guarantee Marie would embarrass me with stories of diaper changing or worse. It didn’t matter – I wouldn’t have missed an opportunity to visit with her and her husband for anything.
I wanted to show Heiney the Arizona Memorial and the Bowfin museum; a WWII Submarine converted into a museum that had been recently opened to the public. We were both sponges when it came to military history.
Bowfin, the only US submarine to claim an enemy bus as a victory, was right next to the Arizona Memorial office, so I figured we could spend the afternoon there, then meet Marie and the Captain at the gate.
I planned on calling them from the Bowfin Museum. We didn’t need to meet with our Jarhead until the following Monday giving us a couple days to soak up all that Hawaii had to offer two fools like Heiney and me.
We arrived at the Arizona Memorial Building in between tour groups and would have to wait about an hour before we could get passage from the memorial building out to the memorial itself. We walked to a nearby restaurant and had a beer and some appetizers.
While we waited for our turn to go out to Arizona, I explained Arizona’s unique status as a currently commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy. She has a crew, although very small, and flag pole attached to Arizona herself.
The Colors are hoisted and stricken each day with the same ceremony and significance as any other warship in the U.S. fleet. I explained that Arizona went down with most of her crew and was the only Battle Ship damaged too badly to be raised and returned to service and the only one on the bottom with a crew and a Flag.
We lined up with thirty or so other tourists waiting to get on board a U.S. Navy launch that would take us out to the mooring at Ford Island; the place where Arizona was tied up on the morning of Dec 7th, 1941 when a Japanese bomb pierced her deck and ignited her powder magazine sending Arizona and 1177 of her men to the bottom of the harbor.
From the moment we got on the launch the atmosphere became somber and respectful. Even the small children seemed to know they should be still. It could have just been a case of good parenting and the presence of what looked like their grandfather who was wearing a WWII Veteran baseball cap with the USMC globe and anchor prominently displayed above the words IWO JIMA. I shook his hand when I had the opportunity and said, “Welcome home brother, and job damn well done.” His eyes smiled at me.
The Arizona Memorial – it just isn’t possible to put an adequate description of it in words. It’s as if the spirit of the Old War Wagon resides with her dead, full of honor, full of pride.
Heiney was as taken as I expected. I caught him rendering a salute at the wall that bears the names of Arizona’s 1177 dead.
The launch returned with another group of tourists and we boarded for the return voyage. I often wish we had taken pictures, but we didn’t take pictures of each other as a matter of policy and it was a hard habit to break. I don’t have one picture of my best friend – I still see him at night sometimes.
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