Friday, December 2, 2016

Pearl Harbor Day – The USS Arizona

Copyright 2016 by Lori-Ann Willey

(boring personal memories)

(USS Arizona)


Back in 1985, Paul received Army Orders.  Destination - Field Station Kunia, Hawaii.   Newly married by less than a year and pregnant with our first daughter, Alanda, we drove from Maine, up through Canada, and then, to San Mateo, CA.  There, our light blue Cavalier was shipped onward to Hawaii.

When we landed in Honolulu, I knew for sure I had never seen so many people or highways in my life. The air was so humid that I remember the feeling of slight suffocation in my lungs. The air was filled with a salty sea breeze.  The sun, very direct and intense upon the body.  

Married, with a child on the way, Paul immediately put us down for Military Housing, but unfortunately, the waiting list was six months to a year. This meant that we had to live off base, and hopefully close to Paul’s work.  For the first two weeks, we stayed at the guest housing on Schofield Barracks. The old WWII barracks had been converted into temporary lodging for soldiers in transition.  Each single room had a bed and joined another room occupied by another soldier.  Two rooms shared the same bathroom.

Sharing a bathroom with strangers was not something I was used to, so I not only checked once to see if I locked their bathroom door, I checked it several times as I did my duty in this very small bathroom that was just large enough for two doors, a toilet, a sink, and a shower stall. 

The men we shared a bathroom with were friendly, but I came from a non-smoking house, so their wretched cigar smoke filtered through the doorway and gave me wicked headaches and nausea 24 hours a day. The only escape was to be outside in the heat. To this day, the mere mention of a cigar brings back horrible memories!  There, in our single room, too, was where I learned what cockroaches looked like and how HUGE they were!

Paul and I went straight to work looking for a place to live in the civilian world.  The first thing we noticed was the cost of living factor.  WOW!  Even in 1985, a gallon of milk cost about $5.00, and it was cheaper to buy a pineapple at a rinky-dink grocery store in Maine, than it was to buy one locally.  That was especially shocking because not a mile down the road and there were millions of them growing for as far as the eyes could see!  Unfortunately, they belonged to either Dole or Del Monte, and hearsay said to pick one and get caught meant a $10,000.00 fine.

I remember well, the realtor that took us around to look at places to rent.  She was a very talkative young woman, full of self-assurance, but even at 19, and coming from the country living of Maine, I knew she was more talk than walk. The woman never stopped talking. When I sat in the back seat, I immediately noticed a piece of cardboard over a rotten piece of plywood on the floorboard.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, it moved aside as I sat.  When I looked down, I literally saw a large gaping hole in the floor the size of a youth basketball!  The rest of the floor was very thin and rusted with holes the size of a quarter!  The seats also had holes.  The cushion springs were literally poking our butts and backs as we sat.  I never dared to rest my feet upon the floor, but instead straddled the holes the best I could as I watched pavement move to a blur between my feet.  I was less than impressed. That was our first and last ride with that woman.

It wasn’t long before we found a place to live on the second floor in a development in Wahiawa.  The cockroaches were everywhere there, too!  However, we did our best to keep them under control by spending at least $10 each week for roach killer sprays.  Thankfully, we could keep them from coming into the apartment via conventional methods, but we had not thought that the eight inch long centipedes would come up the drains!  It is sad when you can sit on the toilet and hear a three-inch roach crawling up the shower curtain beside you!

Hawaii was certainly a different culture for us.  We fell in love with the gecko’s and lizards, but the roaches, centipede’s, and scorpions were not our favorite things to encounter.  Our downstairs neighbor was a wonderful Filipino family with a live-in grandmother who stayed home and tended the kids while the parents worked.  Due to a language barrier, we rarely spoke, but we’d share warm smiles and grins in passing. 

It was there, that I learned that in the Philippine culture when offered a gift, you can either accept or decline that gift.  Unknown to me, I did not understand the gesture behind such offerings.  So, when one day, the grandmother offered me a spider plant, I declined.  We were moving into military housing and I already had enough to pack.  I did not know that declining her gift meant that I declined her friendship!   To this day, some 31 years later, I still feel bad about that!  Had I known, I would have happily accepted her friendship.  Sigh!  It really does help to learn different cultures!  These days, I do!

By then, our daughter, Alanda was six weeks old when military housing became available in Honolulu.  It would be a decent drive for Paul to go to work each day, but he knew of co-workers that lived there and they carpooled the distance together.   Our address was 1319 C Ixora Place. Google Map it, and see that we lived on the edge of a dormant volcano crater.   Like any volcano, dormant or not, occasionally, we’d wake to tremors. There was never any damage, and after a while, even I slept through most of them.

Here is where I became pregnant with our daughter, Dawn.  I have a blog entry about her that you can find if you want a sappy read.  We were only stationed in Hawaii for 3 ½ years, but in that time, we met some very good lifelong friends that we consider family.  What so many non-military do not realize is how quickly neighbors become like family.  All of them were away from home, so we learned to lean on each other, become babysitters, etc.  We all came from different walks of life and from all parts of the world, but we all had one major commonality, the military lifestyle. 

Because I was pregnant much of our 3 ½ years in Hawaii, we didn’t do much of the tourist-like activities.  We did go to a Pro Bowl football game once, a couple luau’s, the Punchbowl Crater, etc., but mostly, there was so much to explore that we took up snorkeling, hiking, beach camping, and boogie-boarding.  At 9 ½ months pregnant we even hiked a mountain and a mountain range.  No, my doctor was not impressed with me in the least, but those who know me even today and the lifestyle we live, do not doubt my activities while very, very pregnant! That 4 ½ mile mountain trail had such drop-offs that if your hands or feet slipped from a root (the soil had washed away on the cliff-like slopes), they’d never find your body.  It was that hike that we discovered passion fruit and guava strawberries that grew wild along the trail.  They were DELICIOUS!  Unfortunately, I was to learn quickly that I was allergic to passion fruit!  Luckily, all I did on the trail was collect and carry.  Thankfully, it wasn’t until after we got home that we started eating them. 


One place we made sure to visit while living on Oahu was the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.  Quite honestly, I sat down to write about that experience alone but then got side-tracked a bit.  Everything written above this is that “side-tracked” mind of mine. That is why my twin sister calls me “Edith”! 

One day, Paul and I decided to visit the Arizona Memorial.  Pearl Harbor was literally only a ten-minute drive away from where we lived.  We had passed the Arizona Memorial more times than not, so one day, we went to pay our respects.

Upon arrival, you were led into a room to watch a short history film about the USS Arizona.  The room was filled with many different nationalities, but mostly, the room was filled with Japanese.  The mood was very somber, respectful, and filled with apprehensive sadness.  Throughout the film, both Paul and I were very taken back that the Japanese men and women sat and openly cried.  Even now, remembering that as if it were yesterday, I have tears in my eyes.  What I would have given to know their thoughts as they wiped their eyes of tears.  I wondered how many times they visited the memorial? How did they know to bring tissues?

After the short film, the room emptied and we were lead out to a carrier that had seating much like that of a bus. After the boat filled …and each boat is always filled, we slowly chugged to the memorial site.  I remember how beautiful the weather was, yet how somber the ride.  If anyone spoke, I did not notice.  Even Paul and I sat quietly. 

Soon, the boat docked.  I remember the walkway, all the names of those who perished really set the already drab mood that tore at my heart. I remember quite well, the shock when Paul pointed to the very visible USS Arizona that lay directly below our feet.  My heart stopped as I stared at dry land just a few dozen feet away.  “They were so close to shore!”  A lump lodged in my throat as I read how many men were trapped underwater with no way to escape and no way to be rescued. 

Paul pointed at the oil that still rises from the sunken ship.  I remember watching it shimmer in the sunlight …how beautiful, yet how very sad, yet amazed, that after (then) 45 years, oil continued to seep from below.  The sailors entombed for eternity.  As we approach the 75th “anniversary” of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Paul told me just a few days ago, that oil still seeps from the depths.  That still amazes me!

The USS Arizona left an impression upon me.   I’m not saying that I enjoyed the visit, but I can say that if we had not visited and paid our respect, that I do not think I would be writing this blog entry today.  It is not the case of “seeing is believing”, but instead, “seeing is feeling and remembering through historical memorials” such as the USS Arizona.

While living in Hawaii and so close to Pearl Harbor, we learned a lot about the people who lived there during the time of World War II.  There was a man who rebuilt a Japanese WWII plane and wanted to fly the same route with it as the Japanese Kamikaze pilots flew that memorable December 7, 1941, morning.  The older citizens -Hawaiians, Japanese, and Japanese-American’s alike- did not like that idea because it brought back too many horrific memories.  Their families feared realistic flashbacks and showed great concern for their loved ones who remember so vividly that day in history.  A day that changed their lives forever.   They were concerned not only for their emotional beings, but their age and health played a large factor, too.   We moved before we learned the result of their plea.

Also, while living there, there were reports that some of the island elders had emotional setbacks each time the military performed their exercises in breaking the sound barriers over the ocean. Numerous times we heard the sonic booms, and could easily relate to the sounds of bombs in the distance. I could easily understand how such things affected the islander elders and their emotional being, even after all those years.

Since visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor Day takes on a whole new meaning to me.  I have a soft spot for Veteran’s in the first place, but until you sit and talk with a wartime hero or visit such a memorial as the USS Arizona …I wonder how survivors cope with their experiences?  They truly are hero’s and they deserve so much more admiration and respect than given by so many.  They helped make this country great!  Please don’t forget that.