By Dorothy Copus Brush
Long ago Samuel Johnson wrote, “Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which there could be no other intellectual operation.”
Much later Nobel Prize-winning novelist Hermann Hesse gave his thoughts on humans and history. He said, “We are ourselves history and share the responsibility for world history and our position in it. But we gravely lack awareness of this responsibility.”
Many of these Random Thoughts columns combine history and memory. For a younger generation 9-11 will always be remembered. For an older generation 12-7-41 was a day embedded in our memory bank. In two days those 71-year-old memories of December 7 are still fresh and will be revisited.
It was an ordinary Sunday and I was a student nurse delivering lunch trays to patients. The radio was playing in one of the rooms and the owner said, “They just interrupted the program to report Pearl Harbor was bombed at 8:06 a.m.” Pearl Harbor? Neither of us knew what that meant or where Pearl Harbor was.
By day’s end we had an answer to some of those questions. Two waves of 353 Japanese fighters, bombers, torpedo planes had damaged all eight U.S. battleships and four had been sunk. Much later we learned the toll of American dead was 2,402 and wounded 1,282.
In this country December 7 was a day of shock filled with questions of what lay ahead. That Sunday evening I and my future husband attended church and the minister never mentioned the bombing!
On Monday we nurses gathered around the radio to hear President Roosevelt speak to Congress and declare war on Japan with the words, “a date which will live in infamy.”
WWII, unlike those wars of today, was everyone’s business. Remember Pearl Harbor was the battle cry at home and in battle fields around the world. Victory was declared in 1945.
In 1949 a discussion began on building a permanent memorial in Hawaii. In 1950 the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet attached a flagpole to the sunken Arizona’s main mast and the Stars and Stripes was hoisted and lowered daily.
All during the 1950s and early '60s, the search for funding a memorial continued. The government subsidized $200,000 but $500,000 had to come from private funding.
On Memorial Day, 1962, the USS Arizona was dedicated to the over 1000 souls resting below. It was 184 feet long with a peak at each end but a sag in the middle. The architect explained, “Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory … the ultimate effect is serenity.”
The memorial was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October, 1966 and much later in May of 1989 it became a National Historic Landmark.
It was a never- to- be- forgotten experience when I stood on that memorial in 1974. It was my one and only time in Hawaii because the National Federation of Press Women held their conference there. A boat carried us out to the memorial but as we arrived it started raining. The bad weather shortened our time on the memorial but I was able to look below where over a thousand souls are at rest. The ship was still leaking oil called the Arizona’s black tears.
But the most memorable moment was overhearing a grandfather who survived Pearl Harbor reliving that day of infamy for his grandson. My visit was short but always remembered. This Friday take a moment to “Remember Pearl Harbor.”