As we commemorate the anniversary this December 7th of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by Imperial Japanese forces that brought the United States into World War II, many Americans today will no doubt think of the solemn and beautiful white marble memorial that bestrides the USS Arizona. Those of us who have personally visited the site can never forget what it feels like to stand in the airy sunshine of the memorial, above the sunken ship and her crew, and read the names that are carved into the memorial’s interior of the 1,177 men aboard her who lost their lives on that fateful Sunday morning.
This past September while on business there, I was privileged to receive a private tour of Pearl Harbor which featured historic sites on the active military base that are off-limits to the public. The lead image in this post is a view of the USS Arizona memorial from a smaller memorial on Ford Island itself; just steps away from this point are the private homes of active military personnel currently serving there.
The sense of peace at that spot is very different from the experience of being in the crowds which ferry visitors to the memorial. The most emotionally impactful part of this place to me was the coins left for the fallen on top of this quiet, secluded memorial, a site that many Americans don’t even know exists. Visitors leave a penny to signify their visit to the fallen. A nickel is left behind by a comrade who trained with them, while a dime is left by those who then served with them. A quarter is left by those who were there when the fallen sailor or soldier lost his life.
A far less-known memorial on the other side of Ford Island honors the USS Utah, which was also sunk on December 7, 1941, with a loss of 58 men killed. The wreckage of the Utah still protrudes above the water’s surface, and visitors can walk along an L-shaped pier to gain a better view of the ship. Because a neighborhood of military families on the base parallels this waterfront, this memorial is much less frequently visited. Thus, I was once again moved to see the profusion of change left at the memorial, literally within a stone’s throw of the ship itself.
Our guide told me a story while standing on the pier. He said that the wife of an officer on board the Utah had given birth to twin daughters, but that one daughter had died. Her father had taken his child’s ashes in an urn onboard the ship to scatter her remains at sea on his next patrol, but that the Japanese sinking of the ship prevented him from fulfilling his plan. Our guide told me that the deceased infant’s urn was still on board the ship, and that every December 7th, her twin brings flowers to drop into Pearl Harbor.