Monday, September 17, 2007

Hawaii: Water of Pearls

Ever since I was child I have had a mental list of places, that given the right circumstances, I was determined at some point to experience. This year allowed me to tick 2 places of this list, starting with the Eternal City in March. Rome is hardly an original choice, but that is for very obvious reasons. Any one place that allows a visitor to delve into the Colosseum, The Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and Keats-Shelly Museum is a must. It doesn't require religious fervour or love of ancient history to be deeply rewarded by a visit to Rome, being human should be enough. The 2nd place was harbour in Oahu called Wai Mami, or Water of Pearls.

To be entirely honest this was not my first visit, but the circumstances of which I laboured under on my previous visit nullify that trip - the non-stop bus tour and only being 4 years old. Like Rome, Pearl Harbour is deluged by hungry tourists trying to have a their own "unique experience" of the visit. It should be pointed out from the off that as a harbour there are far more beautiful ones to be found in say Sydney or even Cornwall. Of course everybody knows why millions of tourists flock every year and it isn't to dive for pearls.

The USS Arizona Memorial and Museum is I am sure a deeply moving experience for most American and indeed Japanese visitors. I have to be be honest from the start and say that I found aspects of the experience slightly uncomfortable, but as I am not an American (or Japanese) it would be wrong for me to criticise this overtly. All I would like to contribute is the need to be careful about exhibiting too much hubris. It is an American war memorial and obviously this can result in opinions being espoused that in a more considerately environment you would like to believe would not be heard.

Upon entering the museum section of the tour, the visitor is greeted by a grey anchor with a black python of a chain standing detached and forlorn, it is one of the great anchors of the USS Arizona and creates the perfect note of contemplation whilst queueing. The museum, despite being compact and occupying 2 rooms was for me an interesting experience. Lots of audio-visuals to help with the original artefacts and photographs on display. The small USS Utah cabinet a fitting and poignant reminder of the other sunken Pearl Harbour ship that visitors almost entirely overlook because of the USS Arizona.

I was intrigued to find a small photograph and description of the USS Phoenix, a ship that survived the Pearl Harbour attack and saw active service through the war. It was later sold by the US Navy (I continue to find this strange) and later was sunk during another war, but under a different name, the General Belgrano. It is sad that this ship is probably more famous for a tabloid front page than any service it performed.

Before commencing the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, all visitors sit through a 30 minute documentary detailing the attack, the immediate aftermath and the later events that resulted in the construction of the white memorial that floats just above the wreck.

The visit to the wreck itself is a 25 minute round trip, allowing the visitor to have about 15 minutes to observe the ship below. It is a moving experience, more so when reading the list of names of the sailors entombed below in the wreck.

I just wished that ignorant, naive and offensive thoughts had remained inaudible to me during my visit. The terrorist attacks on September 11th are not equal to Pearl Harbour, nor were the Japanese the Al-Qaeda of the time. Those that perished during Hurricane Katrina also didn't deserve their fate, despite any warnings that may have been broadcast beforehand.

The highlight of my visit was my brief chat with Mr S. Cole a US Navy shipyard dispenser who witnessed the attack and was enthralling to listen to. He is I believe 88, the other eye-witness present the day I visited was 94. Time is encroaching on these men and women and I was indeed a little humbled at the grace of they showed to all nationalities visiting. Some of their compatriots I heard that day should have listened to them more carefully.

Overall I enjoyed my visit to Pearl Harbour, a place that embodies some of the horrors of war, but also the sacrifices of military personal on both sides who were killed serving their countries.

USS Missouri & USS Nevada Anchorage USS Arizona

USS Utah
Pearl Harbour from USS Arizona Memorial

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