It's not exactly something I liked doing, really? I've been there for re-enlistments, and that's usually a happy occassion. I've also been there for dedications, and those too, weren't too bad. But any time I've been there to pay my respects, it's always been hard.
These men and women are Sailors. Marines. Airmen. Soldiers. Doctors and nurses. Ordinary civilians, everyday people. They are my fathers and mothers. My grandfathers and grandmothers. Aunts and Uncles.
Americans, Hawai'ians, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Samoans, Portugese and even Japanese. White, black, brown, yellow...it doesn't matter. They were alive once, and that makes them people.
Being a sailor, going through damage control training gave me uncanny insight into what happened that day, and what they went through. I'm not saying that being in a flooding trainer is any real way to connect to someone who had to fight their way out of a capsized battleship and leap into a harbor of burning oil, but it's still a window that gazes out into their world on that day.
And it hurts.
I don't suppose that's entirely logical, but then emotion never is.
When you go to the Memorial itself, you have to sit through a short movie. I love it and I hate it. It's Good Medicine, but it hurts. Dear God, it hurts. When they play the explosions, it feels like I'm there. I want to fight, I want to scream, I want to stand with Doris Miller and John Finn. But I can't.
And they would never want me to, either. That's not my job. My job is to remember.
I've looked over the names on the wall, and I've never seen a name that I recognize. Nobody that I'm aware of was related to me, but I suppose if I were to dig really deep, I'd find some kind of familial connection. But then, I don't really need to? Family is something that can go much deeper than mere blood.
There's a ring of plaques back on shore, one for each ship and base, and also for the towns of Oahu that lost people on that day. Not many people stay inside that ring for very long. They come in, look at a few plaques and then leave to go look at the rest of the exhibits. I think I know why? It's not just a ring of plaques, it's a focus. More than a shrine or a cairn or a memorial, it's a focus for the Spirits of the Departed.
In that small place, I can feel Them. It's nothing particularly spectacular, though? Your hair doesn't stand on end, you don't feel a shiver or a tingle or anything like that? It's the silence.
It's a pure silence. Not even the noise of the people from the rest of the memorial penetrates here, but there's no reason why it shouldn't. The stones are only chest high, and you can see everything around the whole harbor, but all you can hear is the wind and the rustle of trees. So many names. So many voices. And all of them silent.
When you stand in that ring, it feels as if every eye of the past has turned upon you. They don't seem to care if you cry or not, though that does feel good and right? No...what they seem to want from the visitor is to remember.
I've been all over Pearl Harbor and the surrounding areas. I've been on Hickam, I've been on the Wapio Peninsula, Pearl City, Pearl Highlands, Pearl Kai and Aiea. I've been on the flats of Barber's Point, and that place is so strong with Spirit Mana that it can actually hurt you physically if you're not careful. I've been visited by "things", had something take a swipe at me in the dark on a deserted beach and chased Obake out of my barracks room with Ti leaves and salt. I've seen Akualele at Iolani Palace. I'm no stranger to the Spirit World.
For all the chaos, pain and suffering that happened on that Sunday morning, 65 years ago-on top of everything else that Pearl Harbor already had to bear-that ring of stones is the one place where you feel at peace, once you pay the price of admission.
You enter. You read. Touch the plaques. Listen to the silence. Shed your tears.
And promise to remember.