Friday, July 2, 2010

Pearl Harbour, Oahu, Hawaii

December 7, 1941. A day which will – well you know the rest.

I woke up at seven. You have to get up early if you want to get to Pearl Harbour, and do it right. Not Shanghai World Expo Chinese Pavilion, early – but early nonetheless. And for the same reason. There are tickets to be handed out and only the first many will get them. At seven twenty I was jumping on the bus which dropped me off at eight forty five. I checked my pack, and made my way in by ten to nine.

Step one, head over to grab the free ticket for the Arizona. Mine was timestamped with 12:40. I had three and a half hour to spend before I could grab the ferry for that monument. Next, I went over to watch the half hour video detailing the events of Pearl Harbour's bombing. The video is played with English and Japanese subtitles. Rumour has it that the Japanese does not match up with the English, they know where their tourism dollars come from.

With the movie over, and myself a little shocked at the amount of truth in the film, I made my way back to the ticket counter. The film addressed the fact that Japan was almost forced into attack by America cutting off their oil supply. This also indicated that America was selling Japan oil during their war against the Allied forces. Now, it was phrased in such a way that you'd have to put that together, but it wasn't just glossed over, as if the United States had nothing to do with the success of the Japanese war machine in the early years.

This was no stars and stripes forever, propaganda video – what I was expecting – it was actually well presented, and informative, without making either side look like some sort of devil acting out of pure malice and evil.

From the ticket booth I bought (only the Arizona is free here) a pass to get on board the Missouri. This ran twenty dollars, but is completely worth it if you happen to be in the area.

From the parking lot a shuttle bus runs you over to the Missouri where you'll then walk on board. There's an option of taking a free tour, or just wandering on your own. Take the free tour. It's free. It's only half an hour. You'll learn things such as, “two of the guns on the ship weigh more than a NASA space shuttle,” and other fun facts. The tour will also show you where a kamikaze plane hit the ship, leaving but a scratch behind. In a controversial move, the captain decided to hold a full military funeral for the pilot. You'll also have pointed out to you the exact spot where World War II ended – where the surrender documents were signed. Mind you, the boat was in Tokyo Bay at the time, but the spot on deck is where the people sat.

There are also replicas of the two documents. If you look at the Japanese copy, and care enough to check out all the signatures you may notice that there is no name on the Canadian line. Interesting, but then then below you will see the Canadian's signature. Yes in deed, our country did screw up one of the most important documents in history. All of the country names on the form were scratched out, and changed to accommodate this new error. New Zealand had to draw themselves their own line, down at the bottom.

The Japanese tried to claim that this invalidated the document. That didn't really go over well with everyone else, and the point was soon dropped. It was made sure that, for the Allied copy, the Canadian knew where his name was to go.

Once the tour is complete, you are left to wander around below decks. I paused for a moment, as a naval retirement was in process. I listened as he told stories of working with NATO (No Action, Talk Only) and his time served on board a Russian vessel, “teaching them how we do what we do.” He was presented with a uniform, and a flag. Before he requested permission to disembark, I headed through the metal door, down the stairs, into the kitchen. The facilities on board the battleship were quite impressive. They had Coke machines, with Sprite, Crush, and other flavours. They also had ice cream machines after a hard day of lobbing shells at Iraq.

It's interesting to note that while used in the forties, the ship saw action up until 1991. As ships go, it's still capable of some of the most destructive barrages of projectiles. They just don't build them like they used to. With twelve inches of plating, this was a ship created to take a beating.

The bunks were we tiny things, and it was hard to imagine how so many people lived together on board without losing their minds. The officers, however, had much nicer digs.

Once you've been below, you can walk up to see the missile launching equipment where the first Desert Storm Tomahawk was fired from. As well, you can view the navigational room, locked off behind metal plating, with no view of the outside world. This may seem contrary to logic – where the one driving might need to see ahead, but this was to protect him and keep him alive. There would be another yelling orders at him, from the unprotected deck, shielded only by some very basic glass.

The boat was mammoth, and yet, compared to the Ronald Regan, in port for Rimpact (international war games held in Hawaii) it was but a small little thing. The Ronald Regan is an American Aircraft Carrier – fully loaded with fighter jets, helicopters, and an assortment of troops.

When I'd returned to the main area, and boarded the ferry to the Arizona the true size of the carrier was brought to light as we made our way past it. Near one end, there is just a huge opening that goes from one side to the other. That opening alone could pass all number of other boats through. It's said that America has some of the biggest carriers in the world, and looking at this beast, I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

Though I knew it was the Regan, in my heart and mind, I couldn't help but think I was seeing the USS Flag.

The Arizona memorial is a white structure built with a dip in the roof, signifying the morale of the country during world war II. At the beginning they were gung ho, ready to take on all invaders, but with all the loss of life, there was a drop, a falling back. However, their spirits were raised once more at the end, when the final push was being made.

The Arizona lays on the bottom, hundreds of corpses still inside. Earlier in the day, survivors from the ship were here visiting. It's hard to imagine how anyone could have survived the blast. Strangely – it was the religious that made it through. Being on deck for Sunday morning service at the time of the bombing is what spared them, over all the others, still asleep in their bunks below.

Oil still bubbles to the surface, creating rainbows on the water's surface. Some asked about the environmental impact that would have on the surrounding sea life; some need to get their priorities straight and stay silent.

A wall has all the names of the dead inscribed on it, with some dying as recently as 2009. The reason for this is that when a survivor, or one who should have been on board at the time – but for some reason was not – passes, they can request their ashes to be placed within the boat below. Rejoining their shipmates.

It's a powerful experience, and an important one for me. I've now seen the beginning and the end – Pearl Harbour, and Hiroshima. (True that Nagasaki may theoretically be the end, but Hiroshima was where all knew that the change was coming.)

There is also a submarine that one could walk around on, and a number of different torpedos, including one nuclear torpedo, no longer used and highly controversial. Due to the range, the blast could destroy the ship firing it, as well as the target. The idea was to fire off on an angle, in front of the target, keeping as much room between your ship and the enemy. It is for the best that these no longer find themselves on board the underwater boats.

One thing that shocked me – that I'd never know about until this was – was a Kaiten. How the Americans got hold of one of them is beyond me. It is a Japanese suicide submarine. Not unlike the kamikaze (divine wind) the Kaiten (rapid change of fortune) was a one man craft stuffed with explosives. The pilot of the boat would be sent on a one way mission to ram it into an enemy vessel destroying all parties.

To be a pilot on a suicide run would be terrible, but over in an instant. I can't imagine slowly plodding through the seas, knowing your fate was sealed the second you stepped inside.

If I do nothing else the entire time I am in Hawaii, I will be fine with that. This experience has made the journey more than worthwhile.

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