July 16, 2017
Hawaii is a place of much beauty and many contrasts. This was quite apparent today as many of us hiked up Diamond Head, a volcanic tuff cone. It has been home to many things over time, including Fort Ruger, the first United States military reservation on Hawaii. It has been used as a military lookout point for many decades, even during World War II. It was interesting to contrast the natural features that helped the military in Hawaii with the human created military bases that we saw at Pearl Harbor and on Ford Island.
We had the privilege of visiting the Pacific Aviation Museum, a ten-year old museum dedicated to the attack on Pearl Harbor and things related to aviation in World War II and beyond. The museum does a great job of involving visitors immediately upon entering the museum. We walked through a “tunnel of time,” showcasing large-scale photos of Hawaii through the 20th century before entering the main exhibit hall. We were able to step-into much of the exhibits due to an overhang of airplane wings and large-scale floor maps of the Pacific. Mannequins are dressed in period uniforms (they looked quite real out of the corner of my eye!), and there are many authentic objects in the exhibits. It’s great that the exhibits were constructed to be so large-scale because they also remind you that the museum itself is inside a Pearl Harbor Navy hangar. And, while we couldn’t touch objects in the exhibits, the sheer size of the airplanes really helped to make us feel a part of the exhibit and gave us a multi-sensory experience. Our docent, Gerry, was an extremely knowledgeable guide through the museum, aided by the fact that he was a retired military pilot himself. I must say that everyone in our group was really impressed with the in-depth knowledge he had of the battles and the war in the Pacific and his ability to take complex military situations and explain them in a way that made sense.
Another powerful and meaningful experience during the day was the visit to the memorials for the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma, which was part of a bus tour that we took of Ford Island. This was also fascinating because of the special access we had that the public did not. Our very articulate tour guide took us to see marks that were still left on the base by Japanese bullets before taking us to the USS Utah Memorial. We got to hear the terrible account of the 58 sailors that went down with the Utah and were entombed in its hull, with an additional story about the Chief Yeoman who escaped but who left the ashes of his infant daughter on board when the vessel was attacked. We heard about how he was unable to recover them afterward even though he had the assistance of the navy. The USS Utah memorial is not often visited, as its location is restricted. The rusted hull of the ship sticks up through the otherwise beautiful water, reminding us all where to find her and that nature often finds a way to live in harmony with what man has wrought.
We also got to see the very moving memorial to the hundreds of sailors and Marines that died when the USS Oklahoma capsized. The USS Oklahoma Memorial is a haunting salute to those who were lost as she sank. Each fallen hero is represented by a narrow marble obelisk, standing upright and tall, almost as if they were standing at attention. The obelisks are in formation around a flagpole. This powerful memorial is a chilling reminder of the fragility of life, and how duty seems to call, forever more. It was a powerful experience. After the bus tour, we headed to lunch.
After lunch, we had the privilege of heading over to the hangar where more restored airplanes were kept. After a tour of the hangar where we got detailed scientific and technological explanations on the evolution of aviation technology, we got to do hands on lessons with the Pacific Aviation Museum staff. One was a forensic examination of the remains of a downed B-17 that had been salvaged from a swamp in Papua New Guinea called the Swamp Ghost. It was a lot of fun taking our observations and putting them together to figure out what happened to the plane. Next, we got to experience hands on what it was like for the millions of women who operated riveters and build the vast armada that the United States had by the end of the war by doing some riveting ourselves.
It really brought home how hard all of the “Rosie the Riveters” were working back in the US to support the troops who had been deployed overseas. Finally, we got to explore the inside of a C-47 cargo plane and connect that plane to the dangerous missions flown to supply China over the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India theater of the war.
We capped off an amazing day with a tour of the mighty battleship, the USS Missouri. Our tour guide who was a Japanese American had an uncle that fought for Japan and a grandfather who fought for the United States. He was able to give us a great tour of the battleship complete with stories from both the point of view of the United States and Japan. We ended the tour standing on the deck area where General Douglas MacArthur signed the papers ending World War II and accepted the official Japanese surrender.