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Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - December 5-12, 2018 - Episodes 11-15

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

Leaving the bow, I walked starboard and stopped when the
first porthole came into view. This was a typical 12 inch battleship window through which sailors had to try to escape to avoid drowning. Many did but with a good chunk of their upper leg flesh ripped away.

I stared at that hole for the longest time. It between me and life if I were a sailor in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

It's so hard to imagine Pearl as a Hell zone today. It’s so quiet and peaceful. But below the surface, if you focus, you can feel the faint tremor and terror of the past.

I just knew if it had been me, I would have gladly endured the excruciating pain if being ripped through a porthole was what was necessary to reach air, light... life.

Moving into the ship, I happened upon the

Executive Officer's quarters.

My initial feeling was that I didn't belong here as a looky-loo, spying areas I'd not worked my butt off as a sailor to achieve. I wondered how many enlisted ever entered these confines beyond a cursory view at the Exec’s desk for commendation or condemnation.

The hanging uniform
was upsetting. It reminded me of the 77-year-old uniform that, at this very minute, hung on a hanger inside the sunken Arizona just feet to my north, and the 1,177 men who lay inside her, one who would wear the very same uniform as this. Real human beings wear these uniforms. We forget this when we visit museums. Free nations are not defended by pixies or dragons. They are defended by red-blooded people who love their country and countrymen more than life itself. I give pause now when I see a service person. They will not notice my pause, but God will. I do it to figuratively make way for them ahead of myself as they deserve nothing less.

As you can see, even in the Exec's area, it's sparse quarters.
 I believe to be a serviceman, woman, in any corps one has to be in love with minimalism and virtually no comforts of home. As MacArthur said, "… the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps." To serve was, is, to live for the life of the whole, not the self, so individual comforts are placed at a minimum.

I got a chuckle out of whoever set the scene for this cabin display.
A copy of “From Here to Eternity” sitting inside the Exec's desk cabinet begs the question: how many sailors have read James Jones's novel? I smiled and left this area, damn comforted that writers have a valued place on this earth… even with the “Corps.”

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

Once aboard the Missouri, there were so many ways one could veer, but after finishing Officer Country, I chose to return to the Main Deck in search of history: the Quarter Deck and the end of the war in the Pacific.

Since 5 a.m., I had been carrying in my money belt two objects that meant the world to me:
my mother's best pen and my father's favoured pipe. I had packed and brought them with me to create a kind of family trip; one we three should have made in life but because of misfortune, never did. I wanted the three of us to experience this momentous history together if only symbolically. For me, those objects held my parent's souls.

I carefully made my way up the steep ladder and walked toward the spot where the Greatest Generation put paid, once and for all, to the 2nd despotic foe of the 20th century, Hitler and the Nazi regime well dead and gone four months earlier. Thank God.

While tour guides and their tourist flocks talked, walked and listened, those mini groups all a buzz with activity, I remained standing in a soft state of shock, not walking any closer to the epicentre, for I felt I didn't belong. This was not my era, my war, or my fight won.

Then I felt an invisible nudge.
I touched my parent's objects still nestled in my money belt, and in a flash, I saw my mom and dad appear in my mind's eye.

My father, his pipe eschewing a rhythmic smoke, stood erect, dressed in his favoured, well starched and ironed tan khaki shirt and matching pants, aviator glasses affixed, his fine sandy coloured hair slicked back, appearing black with a good douse of Brylcreme. He was the picture perfect image of MacArthur sans military cap and gold stars. My mother, beside him, dressed in happier summer fare - colourful blouse and white slacks - her hair nicely coiffed, a lovely deep brunette again, not the aged grey, and prescription sunglasses affixed to her gentile face.

My parents gazed up at the massive photos tacked up on the super structure, Dad pointing with his long index finger, telling my Mom who was who. They leaned over the glass case where the Treaty lay -
Dad remarking on MacArthur's signature. He did a 360, quietly taking in the moment, shaking his head in amazement. Others nearby stared at him, for he literally looked the twin of the old General. My mom looked a wee bit embarrassed but also a wee bit proud.

I smiled and stifled a laugh.

That all too familiar image of my divaesque father and my patient mother warmed my heart and finally allowed me to enter that hallowed space.

I took a seat at a nearby bench and retrieved the pipe and pen.
It was time for me to do what I had flown thousands of miles to do.

I waited for the deck to mostly clear of tourists and I placed my parent's objects next to the brass plate that marked the spot where the Allied Forces and their defeated Japanese foe signed the instruments of peace, and I quick took the photo.

I was nervous, so the photo isn't exactly as I would have liked but I was afraid someone of authority would take me to task for doing what I was doing.

I had only seconds to appreciate my parents lying next to their long ago present but it was time enough to feel a kind of reverberation from a mingling of dead souls in an unseen vortex of time and space.

A connection had been made.

I do believe my father shook MacArthur's hand - a dream for him came true.
I was right to do what I did, to carry these objects all this way.
A real and valuable contact had been made, and it was me who facilitated it.

I still didn't belong in their world but I do believe they allowed me a cursory look-in after this gesture.

Tears came and ran down my cheeks. I no longer could hold tight my emotions.
A tourist standing nearby looked at me, said nothing, and then walked away. I think he sensed this was a heavy moment.

I quick picked up the pipe and pen and left the Quarter Deck, gulping air.
I don't think I've felt as alone in my life as I did in that moment.
In my family, I am the last alive.
It's me now who carries the torch.
But I'd been readying myself for this eventuality for decades.
I couldn't disappoint my parents now.

Again in my mind's eye, I saw my dad leading the way, his gaze pointed toward the harbor, my mother a stride behind. She turned around to find me and she waved at me to catch up, saying, "It's okay, Barbie. We're okay. Let's catch up with your father. We have things to see and do."

I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand, pocketed the pipe and pen, and walked on.
I was here on this island for a purpose and I was not alone, not really.
Many dead souls were counting on me to get this right.
No longer today would there be time for tears.

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

The Captain’s Quarters on the USS Missouri were set behind Plexiglas so the photos are not the best, but all I could think of was how all the top brass from all the allied countries must have hovered in these rooms before the Japanese contingent boarded the battleship for the surrender ceremony. If one could be a fly on these walls on that day… would the talk have been sombre, joyous? The generals had been through so much, counted and seen so many dead sailors and soldiers. Was it just plain exhausted relief on their faces? All those generals are gone now, ashes to the ages. In looking in at these rooms with their solid brass side table lamps and solid silver service on the grand table, I felt sad, and I wasn’t sure why or for whom. I was looking in on an unseen history. Were those generals from their ghostly graves staring out at me? I just remembered leaving these quarters feeling very sad, and alone. Far too many dead people hovering around me.

I could have kept going inside, but I needed some fresh air. The bunker oil smell was omnipresent, and I’d yet to get used to it. In time, on this day, I would, as any new sailor would have done.

Outside hung the ships’ accommodation ladder, pitted and pock-marked from the salt air. I gazed at it for some time and gingerly touched the surface. I couldn’t compute how many men had walked up and down this portable stair case, and how many, in the end, returned via these stairs, as survivors of such a bloody war, back into the arms of their loved ones… and how many footsteps were never made of the men who boarded but were lost to the sea. Everywhere on the Mo, heaviness abounded. I’m unsure of how the modern day sailors felt working on this ship. Had they felt the ghosts from the past too? Do sailors never really leave their ships? To me, it felt that way. A weighted mix of might and memories…

Overboard, I caught a repair platform and flashes of similar floating barges sprung to mind. How many just like this floated in the hours and days after December 7th? With torch teams rescuing the lucky few and with divers retrieving bodies and repairing the massive torpedo damage. Nobody was on this barge, this day, but I felt it odd that one floated by on the day I was aboard. Fate — yours or anyone else’s — is only a degree of separation away. To be a woman in 2018 or to be a man in 1941, is it all just a cosmic flip of the dice? A chill went through me and I walked on.

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR - Episode Fourteen…

Life was pretty sweet on the Mighty Mo, for although she was commissioned in 1944, she was leap years ahead of the Okie, commissioned in 1916.

Junior officers quarters, two sailors to a room, and a
Head worthy of any officer on deck.

Linoleum flooring ruled this battleship as it did all other dreadnoughts, the colour denoting the station, and by God, if you stepped into Officer’s Country - brilliant blue lino in the Mighty Mo - as a lowly ensign, you had better have a mighty fine reason.

The galleys aboard the Missouri were threefold - one for Crew, Junior Officers and the Exec, with each Mess/Ward Room a little more inviting as you went up in rank. Posted here are the Crew and J.O.

The Exec in the Mo I missed photographing somehow, but picture the room with bright blue Naugahyde covering on the tables and on padded chairs. We’re not talking The Ritz, even for the Captain on Deck.

No battleship is complete without a Gedunk Stand, a soda shop of sorts where pop and ice cream could be had at a price. Personally, I would have preferred a cocktail bar but that's probably why the Irish don't rule the world.

 Two areas most tourists on board walked right by without a thought, I noticed straight away, and paused. Sounds and smells emanating from my mind - the klaxon and the smoking lamp - the former to announce General Quarters, Battle Stations, the latter telling the crew it was okay to smoke. Both could be the precursors of explosions, the former, an enemy, the latter, human error. No man wantonly lights up when bunker fuel is flowing. No man wants to be killed, either way.

Daily life and looming death, e’er floating about a BB.

Oahu Hawaii Research Journey for AIR – Episode Fifteen…

Hidden away in the corner of the Crew Mess Hall on the USS Missouri is a walled-off glass case area of copies of letters Japanese kamikaze airmen were ordered to write to their families before they took off from the six carriers that Sunday morning to bomb the fleet in Pearl Harbor.

 Except for the unflinching loyalty to their Emperor and to Tojo’s military, and for their willingness to die for the Cause, you would not be able to distinguish their loving words from what our North American soldiers would write home to their loved ones.

To look at their faces, to look at our boys faces – all were just babes in arms, or shall I say babes with arms…

When I stood there for a time, taking it all in, a Pearl Harbor survivor entered and I gave him a wide berth to allow him to see what he came to see. A few minutes later, a group of young kids entered – roughly the same age as those suicidal fighters – laughing and giggling, pushing by the veteran, blithe to him and me and the depth of meaning in those letters. I would be lying if their behaviour didn’t annoy me, especially how they so buffeted that elderly sailor. Youth truly is wasted on the young, but then again, all those young sailors – that elderly man when he was 19 – would any man fight in a war and die for their country’s cause if they knew better?

I wanted so much to reach for that elderly man’s arm and somehow thank him for what he did on that day, but I froze, my mind bereft of words, my emotions too thick. I quickly wiped away stray tears, smiled at him and his lovely wife and their grown children, and I walked on, feeling a great sense of misdirected guilt, wishing I could have fought alongside him and all the men and women in the harbor that day. Freedom in North America is ours, only because of them. How on earth do you repay that?


 There is an old Japanese legend which promises that for every 1000 folded paper cranes a wish from the gods will be granted to the holder. There are strings and strings and strings of 1000 paper cranes all over the Pearl Harbor site and on the Missouri made by the citizens of Japan as a gesture of hope and healing during challenging times. These strings, I witnessed, not many tourists stopped to admire, but I was okay with that, for I want to believe those wishes were granted more to the dead and not to the living, and that the people of Japan, and not their past dictatorial rulers, never meant us any harm, and through these 77 years, the Japanese WWII generation carry great guilt and responsibility for the dead at Pearl Harbor.
It could have been my imagination, as I surely have one, but thanks to the citizens of Japan, Pearl Harbor is now a place of peace, and their countless tiny paper cranes help sustain hope for all mankind and ensure the healing to the harmed.


Again, there were a few more places on the Missouri very few tourists
noticed, for instance, a Z hatch. Condition Zed stands for watertight closure of a battleship. The condition anything but on the USS Oklahoma on that fateful day. Monday December 8, 1941 held for an Admiral’s Inspection, so all portholes, hatches and even hull blister compartments were left wide open to air out the ship. Had the Z hatches like this one been sealed, the Oklahoma would likely not have capsized and those 429 men wouldn’t have met their untimely deaths, so to see this Z hatch open sent shivers down my spine, and my imagination heard disembodied screams from the depths below

There were places along 2nd Deck where you could peer into 3rd as these photos attest, and once you stepped into the inky darkness, you were effectively blind.

Not even your hand before your face could you see. For me, it felt like being buried alive, and a kind of quiet panic bubbled forth, enough to send me back up where I belonged, where all living belong. There is no man or woman alive today that can say being trapped down below a capsized battleship was an easily survivable feat, physically or mentally. It gave me fright. I felt claustrophobic. I sensed death everywhere I could not see.

My journey continues…