Pearl Harbor

It has been about 20 years since Mrs Bear and I visited Oahu. On that visit, we brought our family out from the mainland to spend a week in Paradise. A must for anyone coming to this Hawaiian Island is a visit to a Pearl Harbor…not only to tour the site of the battle that brought the USA into WWII, but specifically to experience the Memorial for the U.S.S. Arizona. While many ships were sunk that day in December 1941, the Arizona had its entire ammunition storage blown into a fireball by Japanese bombers. The ship exploded and sunk immediately, causing the deaths of over 1000 seamen. Unlike other vessels that were salvaged, the Arizona sleeps were it hit the sea bottom. Most of the dead were never recovered, and still lie with their ship 40 feet below the surface. The military erected a Memorial which can be reached by boat shuttle. It is asked that everyone be silent when passing overhead as a sign of respect. The cover photo Shows an illustration of the Arizona wreckage and the Memorial to its casualties.


Twenty years ago, we were set to pay our respects…but the shuttles were canceled due to high winds and small craft warnings. So Mrs Bear and I headed out again to complete this pilgrimage. We arrived early and visited the U.S.S. Missouri. This is the battleship that became the sight of the signing of the armistice that ended the Japanese theater of WWII in 1945. From the end of this dock, we could look out and see clearly the Arizona Memorial, as well as smaller memorials to the West Virginia and Tennessee, two other battleships sunk during the attack.

We then went back to the Visitor’s Center and toured their  illustrations and photographs  before getting in the designated line for the shuttle. The sequence of events, in very condensed format, that led to the attack are as follows: Japan wanted to take over surrounding territory in the South Pacific that would feed raw materials and fuels to its mainland. It aligned with Germany, as it watched the passive responses of Europe toward German aggression, Japan, in turn, became much more aggressive toward neighboring countries, particularly China. The USA did not like this…We put an oil embargo on Japan and moved our Pacific Fleet from California to Hawaii as a show of force. The Japanese saw this as a major threat and their Military demanded war. The decision was made to launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in order to cripple the US fleet. The time needed to rebuild would give Japan the opportunity to complete its attacks on the Malaysia Peninsula, Burma, the Philippines, and further incursions into China.


The attack came in two waves and lasted a total of two hours. The Japanese fleet had secretly moved within 500 miles of Pearl Harbor and attacked early on a Sunday morning. The first wave attacked the air bases to destroy American air power, and then hit the ships in the harbor with bombs. This was the attack that sank the Arizona.

The second wave came one hour after the first with torpedo planes. The Japanese had perfected the technology that allowed them to drop torpedoes from low flying planes  into the shallow water of Pearl Harbor. The planes came in very slowly at only thirty feet above the water to drop the torpedoes, which then stabilized at about ten feet below the water line (see pic above). They didn’t have to worry about US fighter planes because most had been destroyed in the first wave. The Japanese planes dropped their torpedoes and flew back to their carriers. The arrack was over except for the burning devastation

The USA had planned for the possibility of an attack and had their forces on alert. BUT, they believed, if an attack came, it would be by sea power with perhaps a landing of ground troops. They never thought the Japanese would attack from the air. So we had our planes sitting wing-to-wing on the runways, waiting for a sighting of enemy ships. The only thing that went right for us was that our carriers were not at Pearl Harbor that day…They escaped by being out to sea.


Back to our quest to visit the Arizona Memorial…the day was, once again, very windy. But we were encouraged to see the shuttles making their circuits. In line, however, we were told that, due to high seas, the shuttles were only making a drive-by, and would not be stopping to let passengers walk through the Memorial. BUT, this was still encouraging to us. We went into their theater to watch a short movie…BUT, upon leaving the theater, we were told that the wind had gotten worse and our shuttle had been canceled.

So, we are now zero for two in our attempts to visit the Arizona Memorial, and I am afraid we won’t be able to wait another 20 years for a third attempt. Mrs Bear and I decided that, if there is to be another try, we will sign up,for an early morning shuttle, and lower our expectations.  We ended this visit by walking past the anchor of the U.S.S. Arizona and took a walk along the water to pay respects to all the brave Americans from our “Greatest Generation,” including both of our fathers, who put their lives on hold and fought willingly in WWII.

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