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Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR December 5-12, 2018 - Episodes 1-5

Capsized USS Oklahoma after Pearl Harbor attack - December 7, 1941

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - Episode One...

As promised, my journey to Oahu to research AIR will begin today. I could not post live as there was just too much to see and do, but I will recreate here, now, starting on the day of my departure, December 5th...

It was a
Calgary to Vancouver over to Honolulu flight, a smooth and sun shiny day all the way.
I followed the trip via the onboard GPS screen and really knew I was up high and headed far away when I could barely make out the curvature of the earth out the window and on the screen...

Anxious I was, and had been for quite some time before I left... so many emotions at play, but the journey had begun, with possessions of my mother and father in my carry on.

We were making the trip together - physical and ethereal.

The journey continues...

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - Episode Two...

Some 6.5 hours later, after fitful attempts at upright napping due to exhaustion, having been awake since 2 a.m., my tiredness melts like a lava flow on butter when I spy out of my window the first hint of land - the south-eastern coast of Oahu.

Now, my journey was no longer a dream, a planned-for journey back on time and far east in space. It was real. My exploration leapt through the starting gate, topographical lines I had long ago memorized, proving now their real existence.

My heartbeat quickened. My eyesight laser-beam focused and my psyche drifted away from the dreary confines of the airplane and floated with all elation at what my eyes absorbed.
Oahu, 1941.

Soon, the harbor shaped so emblazoned in my mind appeared... so hazy at first I questioned the locale.

But then I saw and I knew; the stark white glow of the Arizona Memorial, the grey shadow of the Might Mo, Ford Island and the glittering sea water, the ultimate foe after the Japanese left, the elemental taker of life.

I gazed down and the tears flowed. I daren't look up for travellers sat near me would see my bared emotion.

My men, my boys, all those dead - the ghosts of the battleships long gone and the decayed-to-dust bones still buried in the Arizona, they all gazed up at me in sober reflection, whispering, "What took you so long?"

I had no words. Sorrow overtook.

I was catapulted back to reality as the pilot flew over
Ewa Beach, announcing our approach to land.
My time was now. I would swallow my apprehension to go this alone and I would succeed, if not for myself, for my boys.

The journey continues...

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - Episode Three...

December 5th ended with my acquiring a rental car and driving the harrowing H1, H210 and H76 freeways - some 14 lanes both ways in some places - to Ewa [pronounced Ava] Beach, 20 odd miles west-south-west of Honolulu, and the last coastline the Japanese airmen flew over before heading into Pearl Harbor on that fateful day in '41, 77 years hence, T minus less than two days.

I wanted to stay at Ewa, to be as far removed from the 21st century as I could get simply because on this trip I am not living in the Now. I'm living then.

Ewa, then as now, is a tranquil suburb where only the swish of palms and the roar of the ocean waves as they barrel into shore occupy your mind.

After settling into my Tree Top condo, I headed to my private spit of the
beach to watch the day's dying light, and absorb the fact that I was there, really there, to observe a place and time lost to many but not to all.

To those of us who need to "Remember Pearl Harbor" as the motto went, that if there ever was a time when you needed reminding of all you have, of all you love and hold dear, December 5 and 6th are those precious moments to quietly observe and inhale before it all could have easily been lost...

As the night shadows trade spots with the sun's glare, the unripened
coconuts nestle above me in the palms, the sand slowly loses its heat

and the gay skyline of Waikiki twinkles in the distance, heartache, horror and unending sorrow can be witnessed, tucked in between the folds of paradise.

It's all still there if you care to really look.

The journey continues...

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - Episode Four...

My first day out had to be spent conveying my respects to the real men and boys who died in Pearl Harbor, particularly my boys on the Okie.

Driving up into the volcanic crater of the away from experiencing history, so real and so harrowing. I questioned even whether I had a right to be there.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

or Punchbowl as it's fondly nicknamed, was a momentous experience for me. With each mile and higher and higher my car went, emotions of expectation and sorrow came to the surface. I was mere minutes away from experiencing history, so real and so harrowing. I questioned even whether I had a right to be there.

As you reach the top and drive through the white marble gates you are blessed with an utterly reverent and glorious sight. Verdant lawns immaculately kept, a stillness in the crater which erases all the hubbub noise of Honolulu, and you are welcomed by its otherworldly residents. Tiny birds peck as the asphalt drive for seeds from the gargantuan trees, and once you open your car door a freshness from soft breezes invades your nostrils and your entire soul, or at least mine, is filled with warmth, is welcomed and is at home.

You are met with an engraved message to the
Unknown soldier and after walking up the vast marble staircase you are met with a beautiful angelic statue and a soft trickling fountain regaling pride for the fallen.

Inside the recess area behind the fountain hang massive tactical maps of each major campaign in the Pacific, works of art all, made of coloured rock so intricate in their design each must have taken many
months if not years to complete.

To the right of the stairway lay the slabs of the known men who died on the USS Oklahoma, a kind of eternal record of their loss despite their bodies not being identified in the ground.

I talked to each I saw and touched the names of the ones I could reach. I did not feel alone. They were watching me and I felt happiness in the air. Tears welled up and overflowed and I had an urge to say "I am so sorry" to the men, but I added that because of their bravery they allowed me and millions like me to have a life.

I prayed for their souls in the little
chapel next to the rock murals and I cried hard. I excised all of my deep emotions about this journey and my book and about my boys and the future they gave us. For me, a much needed release. It is such a heavy burden to write on the dead.

I told them my purpose for writing this book and asked them for their help in completing AIR. I knew I needed their support. I knew I needed their permission to tell the story. I felt only warmth and quiet compassion. I heard a whisper in the breeze, "Finish the book."

On this first day, I could not locate any of the Unknown graves, so I said my goodbyes into the wind but a part of me knew I would not leave this Pacific island paradise until I found "my boys."

My journey continues...

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - Episode Five...

Some remaining photos of my initial visit to the Punchbowl cemetery...
Ceremonial Flagstaff, similar to ones that would fly the American flag on battleships at port
A dedication plaque to all the brave journalists who admirably covered the Pearl Harbor attack and all the subsequent Pacific campaigns.
US Flag which covered the first deceased interred in the Punchbowl after the Pearl Harbor attack
Various photos of that interment ceremony

That day, my mind was whirring with thoughts... I was moving in this world but my mind was back "there." I could hear the bombs, the explosions, smell the gun powder and cordite, and see the smoke. I inhaled the burning metal and #6 bunker oil. My senses were on alert - my skin crawled, my hands sweaty. A body tremor, not noticeable to anyone else, overtook.

I was in a kind of shock. I felt it. The day around me, this 21st century December 6th, was peaceful and quite and serene... but all I heard were explosions, wailing cries for Mother, and my mind's eye saw blood. Everywhere. Limbs, decapitated heads. Everywhere.

In this 78 Fahrenheit degree day I felt cold.

I left the cemetery a spent human being, as if I had run a marathon... or fought an unseen enemy.

I wanted to write in the
cemetery guest book, something profound, effectual... but all I wrote is what I wrote. The state of daze does not make for good word choice.

But amid all the emotional turmoil, I felt I had my boys permission to continue my research. So I wiped away the tears, rubbed my arms, steadied my hands and drove out of the crater.

Life must go on even amidst the dead.

My journey will continue in the next post...