Friday, December 7, 2007

Pearl Harbor

So many mental images flash when I think of Pearl Harbor. Before I was born, my mother and older brother lived on Ford Island, the small island in the center of Pearl Harbor, being ordered to the Mainland just months before the attack. As a Navy junior, I lived in Pearl Harbor on two tours of my Dad's duty. My younger brother was born at Tripler Army Hospital, overlooking Pearl Harbor. My heart was broken there in 1968, when I was briefly engaged to a wonderful young Airman. My first husband's nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Sargo, was home ported at Pearl in the late '60s and early '70s. My younger brother now works at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as a trainer. I celebrated my 21st birthday with a drink at the Bachelor Officers' Quarters bar in Pearl Harbor.

Pearl and I go 'way back.

My first memory of Hawaii is the Navy housing called Makalapa, where our family settled for the 2+ years we lived in Hawaii in 1954-56. Each house had a Navy blue metal sign with gold letters next to the carport proclaiming which officer lived in the residence. The furniture was mainly Navy issue massive bamboo and life for a second grader was just about ideal. We wore flipflops to school, played outdoors in the warm rain, and enjoyed unprecedented freedom from parental supervision. Once I was tested for water safety, I could go to the pool with my friends unchaperoned - the pool was right in our neighborhood - and because officers of roughly the same rank were housed together, playmates of roughly the right ages abounded. There were huge playgrounds and an extinct crater out the back door where we could explore to our hearts' content. My best friend, Rosemary Barnwell, lived in the same duplex with us and her bedroom window was right next to mine so we could whisper back and forth even after bedtime or until my sister, who shared the room with me, told us to shut up and go to sleep.

In the late 1960s, my father was again ordered to Pearl Harbor and we lived again in Makalapa, but this time our quarters on "Admiral's Row" were somewhat more luxurious and the furniture was no longer Navy issue bamboo. We lived right across the street from the swimming pool, my childhood dream come true. The Vietnam War was being fought this time, and echoes of the war reached us frequently in casualty reports that listed men we knew well as having been shot down and killed, wounded or taken prisoner. My Dad had huge admiration for young John McCain, who served in Dad's command at that time, and was shocked and saddened when he learned of McCain's capture.

At that time, I worked at the Honolulu Academy of Arts where I encountered many people who had been in Honolulu, just 10 miles away, on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Their stories of the shock and incredulity they experienced at seeing planes flying low over Pearl Harbor with rising suns on their wings and black clouds of smoke in their wakes painted vivid personal pictures for me of that day.

I also escorted many, many visitors on my Dad's barge to the Arizona Memorial to see the long, tragic lists of names of mostly very young men carved on the walls of the monument. Visitors always wanted to see it and experience the ship below, still leaking oil from her broken hull. Toward the end of Dad's tour of duty, I could no longer take them there - it was just too sad to bear. By then, I had known some young men like them, myself.

It was at a pool on the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor where I began flirting with my first husband, a young submariner fresh from the Mainland. For two years, we dated around his weekly ops schedule and a 6-month tour in the Western Pacific, when we wrote frequently and I sent him care packages of brownies while he and his shipmates did things that would have made my hair stand on end had I known about them at the time. If you haven't read Blind Man's Bluff, it makes for amazing reading.

We married in the chapel at Makalapa and left the church for the reception under the traditional arch of swords, my brand new husband dressed like "An Officer and a Gentleman" in Service Dress White, the handsomest uniform known to man. Before he left on his second six-month WestPac tour, we moved into base housing where the furniture was, again, Navy issue bamboo. That year, he missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday and our first anniversary. When the boat came home, all of the wives were on Hickam Air Force base, the closest point to the mouth of Pearl Harbor, dressed to the nines, waving frantically and throwing kisses before piling back into our cars to race over to the SubBase to watch Sargo edge gently into her berth with my husband at the helm.

Because my parents retired in Honolulu, I have been back to visit Pearl Harbor many times since I left with that young husband, who decided he was a civilian at heart. Sometimes, I still stop in to visit Navy friends who now live there, or just to remember. Then, I go up to Punchbowl Cemetery, where both my parents are buried, and look at all the crosses for the young men who didn't live a long life and died for a cause the whole country believed in.

In my lifetime, there has never been a war we all believed in - Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq - and my political beliefs are now diametrically opposed to the ones my parents held - but I still have pride in our service to our country and wish that, if we ever end this war, the next one (there seems always to be a next one) is one with the clear cut mission and high ideals our country followed after the attack on Pearl Harbor.





6 Comments:

Blogger katiez said...

What a wonderful story!
And hold that last thought...maybe, someday....

Friday, December 07, 2007  
Blogger Dagny said...

Great story. I have a question. Is it wrong that I have always preferred dress blues to dress whites?

Friday, December 07, 2007  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I got nothing.
Weeping.
Good one, Zoomie.

Friday, December 07, 2007  
Blogger Zoomie said...

KatieZ, thank you. It wrote itself.

Dagny, I know what you mean as the dress blues are very handsome but I'm still a sucker for that blinding white and the stand-up collar.

Cookiecrumb, didn't mean to make you weep, although I was as I wrote. You get it, I know.

Friday, December 07, 2007  
Blogger namastenancy said...

Great post, zoomie. I'm a navy brat as well and probably share (?) your feelings of pride in our country and dismay at what's happening now. Someday....I hope and pray that no more young people will die for such dubious reasons.

Saturday, December 08, 2007  
Blogger Zoomie said...

NamasteNancy, how wonderful to find another Navy junior! Did you know that Cookiecrumb is, too? We should all get together to tell "sea stories" one of these days!

Sunday, December 09, 2007  

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