Only yesterday — 80 years later

The retired United States Marine was our host that day at Pearl Harbor. His name was Gabe Brady, and as he spoke to our little group at the USS Arizona Memorial, told us the story behind the ship’s fate and the 1,102 sailors entombed inside her, emotion won.

Twice, he had to pause.

Everyone was quiet, as we were asked to be, because the Memorial is, after all, a shrine. A burial site. Brady visited it often in his volunteer role with the National Park Service, several times a day, but the site and the harbor and its history are all so overwhelming, it’s easy to understand how a U.S. Marine must choke back tears on every visit.

Gabe commented on my seersucker shirt that gorgeous spring day; it reminded him of what he wore as a young man when he was off-duty in the service. So when we got back home, I sent him one. We’ve stayed in touch the past dozen years, and Monday, on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he called me.

Gabe said from his home near Honolulu that there were big going’s-on for the anniversary, but not as big as the 75th, five years ago. He knew that one Arizona crewmember was scheduled to be entombed Tuesday, December 7; any surviving crew members of the Arizona can have their ashes interred within the wreck by U.S. Navy divers.

“That probably about the last one,” Gabe said, and after 80 years, he’s likely right.

For a video with PragerU, Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford, called the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor “one of the most successful and failed surprise attacks in military history.”

Somehow, the Japanese Imperial Navy managed, undetected, to get six fleet carriers and about 350 aircraft over 4,000 miles of rough winter seas to reach a destination 275 miles north of Pearl Harbor. The attack that early Sunday morning was a complete surprise.

The U.S. Navy lost four battleships, including the Arizona. At that time, losing even one would be classified as a national disaster.

But the attack did not achieve its goal. By either blind luck or providence, the three U.S. aircraft carriers — Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga — were training outside the harbor. And aviation fuel, the dockyards, and maintenance shops were largely undamaged.

So while the raid was a successful surprise, Hanson said, it wasn’t fatal. Not to America.

It was to Japan. The Japanese had underestimated America.

And so today, you can stand on the deck of the USS Missouri where World War II ended — the documents of Japanese surrender were signed on her deck in Tokyo Bay — and look over your shoulder to the spot where America’s involvement in World War II began — at the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s the only spot in the world like it.

If you ever go, you meet at Contemplation Circle, which is a telling title itself. A Park Ranger will greet you, you’ll take a boat trip with your host across the harbor, and you’ll experience the Memorial. Today’s a good day to remember. This is from a piece of literature I kept from that day:

“You will never forget your reaction when you step on the deck of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and look down at the dark oil oozing like dripping blood from the ship underneath. December 7, 1941, the day when the 608-foot Arizona sank in just nine minutes after being bombed in the Japanese air raid, will no longer seem like something from a book — it will be very real. The 1,177 men on board plunged to a fiery death — and the United States went to war. Experience a turning point in America’s history: the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


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