This December a Grand Lady turns 80: The USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, HI

In Charlie Chan in Panama (1940) the USS Arizona can be seen sailing through The Panama Canal. On film, Detective Charlie Chan was there to thwart efforts by suspect foreign agents to sabotage the U.S. Fleet. However, even he couldn’t protect this Lady from the deadly surprise attack to actually take place the following year…in his own backyard.

A few days from now the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii turns 80 years old (December 7th, 1941.) Some 2403 men, women and children died in that attack, which launched us into WWII. The most significant number of casualties were aboard the USS Arizona.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to attempt a history lesson. History was my Achilles heel in high school (and still is to this day.) However, with the 80th anniversary a few days away, I would like to share some brief thoughts about being in Hawaii and working in the HQ Pacific Air Forces building that still holds the scars to that attack.

© Honolulu Star Advertiser (Cindy Ellen Russell)

Every day as I entered this 3-story star-shaped building, a barracks at the time of the attack, I would pass many walls scarred by the strafing of gunfire from attacking bombers. Once inside and settled in I’d head up the staircases to the morning staff meeting. As you climb the stairs you’ll see even more holes riddling those stairs. They are left there as a reminder how powerful the barrage of bullets was–especially for those Army Air Corps men and women just waking as the attack took place just before 8AM.

On the way back to my office, I’d cross the HQ Pacific Air Forces, Courtyard of Heroes, which hosts historic photos and storyboards. The largest part of the Courtyard of Heroes project was the Polynesian landscaping of the courtyard itself and the erection of a large memorial featuring an “eternal flame.” The flame was undertaken during command of General John Lorber in 1995, who provided a vision for the entire project (In 1989, I was [then] Colonel Lorber’s Postmaster at Misawa Air Force Base, Japan.) This large granite monument with the eternal flame atop was designed to memorialize those men and women who lost their lives in the three wars in the Pacific – World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Two smaller monuments in the courtyard are dedicated to those who lost their lives on Hickam Field and those who died in this building, during the 1941 attack.

© Bonnie Gilbert, visit her at
© Honolulu Star Advertiser (Cindy Ellen Russell)

As with other conflicts (more recent Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam) it’s a somber experience reflecting on those memorials to the men and women who paid the ultimate price to protect the freedoms we so cherish. The flag that flew over Hickam Field during that attack is also on display; tattered and charred a somber reminder of the realities of war. I also attended the many formal ceremonies over the years (anyone on base could observe.) It was hard not to get teary-eyed listening to the guest speakers, or the sobs one would hear coming from relatives of the victims or survivors there to participate. Especially, when a bugler played Taps.

I won’t send you to a video of the USS Arizona, there are many on-line you can find yourself. However, here is an excellent, easy to follow (for folks like me) 4-minute rundown of events leading up to the attacked at Pearl Harbor at Click on the video, The Path to Pearl Harbor, and at mark 2:25 minutes you’ll find the prime motivation for that attack (takes a moment before the start icon appears.)

More than 2,400 Americans, military and civilian, died in the attack and another 1,000 people were wounded. Of those, 1177 died aboard the USS Arizona 80 years ago; 900 of their crewmembers remain interned beneath those icy waters? Their average age was 23 yrs old.

“There are times when words, though meant in kindness, are but salt in the wound”

Keeper of The Keys (1932), Chap 9

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