USS Arizona Black Tears
The USS Tarawa pulled into Pearl Harbor late in the afternoon and by the time we tied up, daylight had vanished. The first time I really got a good long look at one of the most well known harbors in the world was the next morning at sunrise.
I was a Signalman in the Navy and one of our duties was to raise the appropriate flags at sunrise. Seeing the sun come up over Pearl Harbor was a beautiful sight. Some of the bluest water I've ever seen. The mountains around and behind Honolulu let out small portions of light at first and teased you for as long they could then relinquished everything at once!
Once we secured the flags my buddy and I, Pat Meade from Agawam Massachusetts, stood at the rail on the signal bridge and took in the whole scene. Both of us pointing at sights but what really gets your attention in the harbor is the white monuments dotting the banks. Each of the monuments represents a ship that was sunk during the attack on December 7th, 1941. There is one that is bigger than the rest, the USS Arizona.
One of the tasks a Sailor must do in the morning prior to going to work or leaving the ship is make up their bed. Doesn't matter if you're at sea or in port the announcement is made to "trice up your rack". No items are allowed to be left out, everything is tight! This isn't done just so the place looks good, it's done for safety sake. If the compartment was flooded, long suction hoses would be lowered into the area to siphon out the water. Unsecured items could be sucked up and clog the pumps. When the announcement was made that morning I remarked to Pat that I didn't see why we needed to do that in port, nothing was going to happen here. Pat looked at me then pointed across the way at the monuments and said.
"That's probably what those guys thought too".
Pat and I along with Ken Bastian from Minnesota boarded the ferry for the Arizona. The boat docked at the entrance and we stepped onto the monument, a bell began to toll and a recorded voice started announcing names and ranks of some of those who died. Talk about goose bumps! I challenge anyone to stay dry eyed during this! The voice faded away and a narrator tells the story and events of what happened that morning not so long ago.
As we walked through the structure I looked over the edge and could see beneath the water the Ship resting on the bottom. The water was so clear it was easy to see details of the upper deck. I remember thinking how small it looked compared to today's War Ships. If you look long enough you'll see a drop of oil float to the surface. This is called "black tears" and one belief is that when the last Pearl Harbor survivor passes, the ship will stop crying.
To look down on this once mighty ship and realize that 1100 sailors are still entombed within the bulk heads is perhaps the most emotional feeling I've ever experienced.
At the far end of the memorial were the engraved names of every person who perished along with their rate. These were guys just like us. When they woke that Sunday morning what were their plans for the day. Were they going to sleep in, were they going to go fishing, play a round of golf or maybe just hang out on the beach. In none of their plans were they going to die. Not one of them expected to still be in that ship nearly 40 years later.
As we boarded the boat and headed back we were pretty silent. We were all three touched and referred to what we had seen and felt on many occasions. Three days later we pulled out of Pearl Harbor and as we passed the Arizona we, as every ship does, rendered honors with a salute to this great ship and its brave crew.
I didn't do a lot of research before I wrote this because I wanted to depend on my memory of that day. After writing I did look up some facts. It's estimated that there are between two and three thousand survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack still living today and decreasing rapidly. In 1989 the USS Arizona was declared a National Historic Landmark.
When I visited Pearl Harbor the attack had been 38 years earlier. It's now been another 33 years. Almost three quarters of a century! How much longer will the "black tears" rise?