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Hawaiian Adventures — Am I Worth Dying For?

May 9, 2012

I wasn’t sure I’d go.

Even though I decided to spend my week away from it all on Oahu just in case I wanted to visit Pearl Harbor, I didn’t commit to going to the memorial until a couple of days before.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care — I know that any life lost in the name of war is one life too many.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand — I was brought to my knees with the rest of the nation when my generation’s version of Pearl Harbor crumbled towers and destroyed lives.

Honestly, it was that I have never considered myself much of a history buff. My brother is the one who can recite dates and names and places. He pours through books, understands the politics at play and is fascinated by the actions that have formed the world we live in today.

I was always the child who grew bored when we visited historic sites. I didn’t get what I was supposed to learn. Or that by visiting a fort or old house or cemetery, I might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a significant event in our nation’s history.

Of course, wisdom is wasted on youth.

(Yes, I know that is not the way the saying actually goes, but my recollection of youth is that no amount of wisdom could have convinced me that I was wrong.)

After almost a week of peace and solitude and freedom to think about things other than work and conflicting obligations, I realized that I not only wanted to see the memorial, I needed to. It is a moment of our history frozen in time. The moment our nation forever lost its naivety. The moment we were shaken out of our isolated, insular worlds and realized that we needed to act together, rather than against one another, to rebuild and defend our nation.

Quiet morning on Pearl Harbor

I arrived before the gates even opened. The ticket I finally received read 8 a.m. — the earliest I would be able to start the 75-minute tour that would take me out to the memorial itself.

I spent the next half hour investigating the small monument. For a place that is marked by violent tragedy, the harbor was astoundingly calm, quiet, contemplative.

In the little museum, I watched video tapes of survivors describe the sound of the USS Arizona exploding and the screams of men burning to death on their ships or in the fiery water — sounds they will never forget as long as they live. At the edge of the harbor, I found the anchor from the USS Arizona. Spread along the path around the harbor were monuments engraved with the names of ships and people attacked on that horrific day.

But the find that took my breath away was a single plaque, placed close to the ground, where it would have been easy to overlook. The simple sign was engraved with a poem that Eleanor Roosevelt carried with her every day of World War II.

“Lest I continue my complacent way … I then must ask and answer, ‘Am I worth dying for?'”

I realized that if I learned nothing else that day, those words would echo with me for the rest of my life. And they will stand as a reminder to never again allow myself to become complacent with where I am, how I am living, what I will accept or tolerate.

I can only hope these pictures help others feel the same way. We have but one life to lead. We need live it to the fullest and defend our freedoms with an endless passion. After all, others died to provide us those freedoms. Those are sacrifices we can’t take for granted.

USS Missouri watching over the sunken USS Arizona

The Tree of Life — the symbol of eternal renewal in the side of the USS Arizona

While at the memorial, I was surrounded by the smell of oil. I knew that the Arizona was still leaking fuel — called “black tears” — that it weeps for the dead within its hull. I didn’t expect to see so much oil on the surface of the water …

Nor did I expect to see among the barely visible wreckage under the memorial …

Signs of life …

That have managed to adapt and thrive in the oil and death …

Over it all, America’s symbol of freedom still flies …

And I was humbled … I will forever be changed by what I witnessed that day. I can only hope you will have the chance to experience the memorial for yourselves one day.

From → Observations

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