I write this on December 7th while watching on TV the Pearl Harbor ceremony at the Arizona Memorial. Just so you know, the ceremony and the Memorial have special meaning to me. In the past, I conducted several re-enlistments as well as other events onboard. On the personal side I became friends with Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service’s Arizona Memorial historian and during the years met many Pearl Harbor survivors (one of whom actually worked for me).
But my main memory comes from 1991. That year was the 50th year anniversary of the attack (I do the math upfront for those who are historically and/or math challenged) and it was a big deal. And it so happened that year, that one week before the ceremony I was invited to help with the security dive on the Memorial, something I’d never done before and is viewed as a special honor. Every year at O-dark Thirty, a group (or is that a covey?) of about five divers would swim above and around the hull of the Arizona looking for suspicious stuff. I was invited not because I was any good at doing this kind of thing but because certain parties could schmooze me for various favors later on. Of course, I accepted the invite because I’m always up for schmoozing.
Now Pearl Harbor itself is only about 40 feet deep and so this is not necessarily a difficult dive. In fact the deck of the Arizona is just below the waterline. But at 4 AM it’s pitch black. Even with powerful underwater strobe lights, an active imagination can wreak havoc on one’s anxiety levels especially when you think you really do see someone looking at you from the opposite side of a porthole.
But the real issue occurred the day before the dive. Because someone who apparently was important (let’s just say way more important than me) cancelled their invite to the actual ceremony. And not wanting an empty chair showing up on the television broadcast, the folks in charge reached way down in the bottom of the barrel and asked me to attend.
The problem was that I was going to be in the water for most of the early morning. Now, while it may appear on Mainland TV that the actual ceremony is at a reasonable time, say 10 or 11 AM, it’s actually at 8 AM, the time of the attack. And so resourceful person that I was, I packed my uniform in a bag, put it in the trunk of my car. And proceeded to dive (mostly with my eyes shut). When we had finally finished, I didn’t have much time to spare when I finally got out of my wetsuit at 7 AM. Off to the gym at the Naval Base, off to the gym’s shower, off to putting on my uniform in a very busy locker room and then back to the Memorial (where you take a boat ride from the shore to the Memorial itself). With two minutes to spare, all spick and span and the only one at the ceremony who knew that everything down below was hunky-dory, I sat down in the front row and listened to 41 give his remarks.
And that’s why the December 7th ceremony onboard the Arizona is special for me. If for no other reason than I’ve never forgotten those tragic faces, 1,777 that were staring out of the portholes…