Tuesday, December 06, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Pearl Harbor: Date of Infamy

Dec. 7, 1941.

It was going to be just another Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor, with the rising sun glistening over the ocean’s blue and green oily sheen, a mixture of sweet plumeria and diesel awakening a mix of humanity from the military to civilian pipefitters to the Chinese and old and new Hawaiians, sustaining the prophecies of the ancients who had named the island Oahu “the Gathering Place” – a day like any other Sunday morning.

But that changed just before 8 a.m. when the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor and the entire island with wave after wave of Zeroes leaving death and destruction everywhere. What was just another Sunday morning became one that would live in infamy.

Even though 2,008 sailors, 218 soldiers and airmen, 109 Marines and 68 civilians were killed in the attack, which dragged us into World War II and thousands more were injured, that Sunday, that day of infamy is closely becoming just another Sunday again.

Today, on the 75th anniversary of the attack, with fewer than 2,000 survivors alive, many Americans have forgotten the true horror of that day. We were harshly reminded on Sept. 11, 2001, of what people bent on killing can do, but even 9/11, when even more men, women and children were killed than at Pearl Harbor, is fading deep in the recesses of most minds.

This can’t happen to Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7 cannot become just another Sunday.

We have to remember how that Sunday morning started and ended: Peaceful, pretty with rolls of clouds over mountains and the sun beginning to warm the day. On the Utah, a retired battleship, the colors were hoisted proudly. The ship was being prepared to be a target vessel, little did anyone realize that within minutes it would truly be a target.

Initially, there were three planes flying low from the south. Many looked, watching, curiously wondering who was flying at that hour. A moment later men on the ship heard explosions on the other side of Pearl Harbor in the midst of the collection of battleships. By then planes were coming in from every direction, so low, one could see the Rising Sun on the wings. The Utah was hit; the abandon-ship order was given. One man sliding down the mooring lines was literally ripped into by Japanese Zero machine gunfire, but hung on for an eternity before falling dead into the oily water below.

Web Edwards, one of Hawaii’s most respected entertainers, was on the radio, repeating, repeating and repeating, “This is no drill. Pearl Harbor is under attack. This is no drill.”

That Sunday, which was supposed to be just another Sunday, became a scene from hell as the water literally burned across Pearl Harbor, mushroom clouds of black putrid smoke bellowed high into the sky permeating with deathly screams from those whom no one could help. The battleships, so strong, so powerful, so invincible the day before were broken, crippled agonies caged in by an inferno of orange flame and ominous black smoke.

When the USS Shaw was hit, eyewitnesses, said it appeared to disintegrate into a million pieces, turning into a great fireball that sent scraps of metal twisting and flying out into the sky, landing as much as an eighth of a mile away.

The attack lasted slightly more than an hour.

The USS Arizona was down and with it most of its men. Some never recovered. The USS Oklahoma had capsized, trapping men inside who were knocking on the outer hull to get out. Acetylene torching couldn’t be used with all the floating gas and oil on and around the ship, so workers had to use air-driven chisels. More than 30 men were pulled out from chiseled openings in the bottom hulls.

But, in the end, 429 USS Oklahoma lives were lost, including the first chaplain death of the war on that Sunday morning.

Just the day before, the local newspaper had announced the winners of the DAR oratory contest. Second place went to Japanese-American youngster Teruo Masatsuga with her speech, “A United America.”

First place and a prize of $15 went to George Akira, 15, who said, in part, “From tropical Hawaii to the rock-bound shores of Maine, to the snow-clad plains of the Dakotas to sunny Texas, let us, Americans all, rally around the Stars and Stripes in the defense of our way of life.”

Little did he know how true those words would ring that Sunday morning. He went on in his speech, “With the love of democracy burning in our hearts and minds, we cannot fail – we must not fail!”

Now, 75 years after that fateful Sunday, we must still heed the words of that plump-cheeked 15-year-old and not fail to forget that Sunday is a day that will and should live in infamy and not become just another Sunday.

“We must not fail.”