Friday, December 7, 2007

The touch of history: remembering the USS Arizona

Posted by John Keller

I've always been haunted by my own thoughts and imagination of the ill-fated battleship USS Arizona, which was sunk in a fiery explosion 66 years ago today with 1,177 sailors and marines aboard. I've read about it, dreamed about it, built a model of it. It's one of those things I can't escape.

Today you'll read countless articles recounting the Pearl Harbor attack and the Arizona's sinking. Click here to see what I mean.

The most interesting, real, and chilling story I've read lately about Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona is about the little-known surviving artifacts of the sunken battleship, which still exist at Pearl Harbor behind locked gates and out of the public's view.

The story is entitled The 'Sacred Relics' of Pearl Harbor, which appeared three days ago in the Wall Street Journal. The account, by Brian M. Sobel, discusses the warship's surviving relics -- like the Arizona's main mast with its ladder still bolted inside -- that are stored in a secret location on Waipio Peninsula in Honolulu.

What strikes me most about the story is its account of the power of actually touching the metal that was part of the Arizona. It was the same for me a few years ago when I visited the Arizona Memorial. I spent several minutes, I remember, just leaning out from the memorial's visitor deck to put my hand on a big rusty pipe sticking up from the sunken warship, which still rests in the mud of Pearl Harbor, slowly leaking drops of heavy bunker fuel oil known as "black tears."

Touching always makes things seem more real. I don't know why, but it does. I've touched one of the B-29 bombers that dropped atom bombs on Japan to end the war that Pearl Harbor started. In my historical re-enacting experiences I've jerked the lanyard to fire an iron cannon that was part of a Union battery on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. I've held a rifle that was used at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and yet nothing moved me so deeply as reaching out and touching the Arizona that day.

I'm hoping the federal government takes good care of those artifacts from the Arizona battleship, and that one day all of us can go see them in a museum. I'd like more people to be able to experience what I did.

Take a moment today to remember Pearl Harbor, the Arizona, and the people who died there. It was our parents' and our grandparents' 9/11.

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