Blog 12/07/2020 - Pearl Harbor

MHT Blog December 7, 2020 - Pearl Habor – Hawaii
The Best Memories From Paradise in the Pacific

I love going through Hawaii on MHT tours to the Pacific, who wouldn’t of course but with some of the Veterans who go it makes paradise even better. My first time back was in 2005 on a Iwo Jima Association of America (IJAA) Post Tour. I arrived on Oahu with the main body returning from Guam where we had headquartered for the Iwo Jima Reunion of Honor. We were going through customs at Honolulu International when Dale Quillan, a Tennessee Barrister and longtime Judge Advocate for the Third Marine Division Association and an Iwo Veteran  came up to me and said his cousin Barney Tucker who was also a Marine in WWII was missing. The Homeland Security Captain was adamant that Barney could not have just strolled through his tight security as Dale still had his passport. They sent people back to the luggage area but to no avail. Gary Andrejak, MHT Tour Leader Extraordinaire took the rest of the group on to the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. I was outside the Homeland Security line and the Captain said he would find Barney who he swore has to be somewhere inside the international terminal. I started walking the front of the airport and over the  intercom came  the call that a man was looking for his tour. I hot-footed further down the concourse and there was Barney sitting in front of an information desk. He was a little forgetful at 86 as he had been a pre-WWII Marine and didn’t recall how he had simple waltzed through security without his passport. After grabbing us a cab to the hotel, Barney, Dale & I all had a cold one at Duke’s Lounge and although the airport events were foggy he clearly remembered everything  about the “Canal,” Melbourne, his time in Australia for refitting and the jungles of Cape Gloucester where he was wounded. It was hugely enjoyable siting on the deck of Duke’s looking out over the Pacific and the setting sun while hearing the exploits of these two WWII Marine Veterans.

The 70th  Anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2011 was an amazing experience with the Veterans and the Ceremonies for the “Date Which Will Live in Infamy!” The MHT Group (below left) was treated well and the weather as expected being in paradise was spectacular nothing like December in the mainland!  Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam went all out to honor all those who gave their all on that fateful morning of December 7th in the surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet by the Imperial Japanese Navy’s submarines and carrier aviation fleet. Sitting gleaming in Pearl Harbor is the most iconic reminder, The USS Arizona Memorial. It is a powerful experience to board the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument shuttle boat to take the quiet ride over the water to the battleship resting on the bottom below the place it was moored on Battleship Row. It is still the final resting place for many of the 1,177 sailors and Marines who were aboard that Sunday morning. The Arizona was the only battleship not salvaged and you can still see the “tears of the Arizona” fuel oil still leaking to the surface. On December 7th, the ceremony is too big to be held on the Memorial’s deck but it is large enough to hold the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway Ceremony the following summer. Being on the deck of the memorial in front of the wall with all names of the gallant men entombed below was a very powerful experience and made me feel that the U.S. Navy’s underdog victory six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor would somehow make those below rest easier.

Within the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument the National Park Service has a tremendous salute to the submarine service if you were a fan as I was of WWII Submarine movies like Operation Pacific, Run Silent, Run Deep or even the comedy Operation Petticoat. Besides getting to tour the USS Bowfish (SS-287) is the great Submarine Museum that gives you a comprehensive history of WWII Pacific Submarine Operations. Also in the park is the conning tower of one of the most decorated boats in the fleet the USS Parche (SS-384) whose skipper Capt. “Red” Ramage earned the Medal of Honor on the night of 29 July 1944 as the Parche sank four Imperial Japanese ships and damaged three more.

Ford Island is a key stop on any trip to Honolulu as the focus of the Japanese attack was on the U.S. Battleship Fleet anchored on battleship row adjacent to the isle in the center of Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (PHAM) is headquartered on Ford Island and is an amazing tour experience but with MHT’s great relationship with the PHAM we receive some special tours of the hangers that still display some of the Japanese bullet holes as does the runway. The meticulous job done by the PHAM in their museum displays carries over to the aircraft they have refurbished. Anyone who saw the “Duke” in “Flying Tigers” will recognize the P-40 to the right in the livery of the 1st American Volunteer Group that flew in China from 1941-42. Speaking of movies, in the background of the P-40 is Building S84 that was prominently displayed in both Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) &  Pearl Harbor (2001.) Besides the classic WWII aircraft like the A6M Zero & F4F-Wildcat the PHAM has Korean, Vietnam and Cold War aircraft like the AH-1 Cobra, MiG-15, F-15 Eagle & F-14 Tomcat plus many more.

Also on Ford Island is the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) for a perfect beginning-conclusion imagery to the War in the Pacific as the war ended on the deck of the “Mighty Mo” in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. After the successful deployment of the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” atomic devices over Hiroshima and Nagasaki compelled the Emperor and Imperial Japan to admit the war was lost and save countless lives on both sides by alleviating an invasion of mainland Japan. To be able to explore this colossus of war that fired rounds against America’s enemies not only in WWII but Korea, Vietnam and Iraq over its 48 years of active service and stand on the teak deck where the  plague marks where Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender was an experience not to be missed. As an artillerymen, I was happy to explore the nine Mark 7 16-inch main guns in the massive turrets. As an instructor, I had always used the example to young Marine lieutenants that my father then a Lieutenant on Okinawa always hoped for battleship naval gunfire support as the shock and awe of nearly a ton of HC (High Capacity) projectile (roughly the weight of a Volkswagen Beetle) coming in with the sound of a freight train would have catastrophic effect on the enemy’s morale. The thought of the Mighty Mo & her sister ship the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) dropping over 950 tons of 16” projectiles in Desert Storm did my heart good.  No trip to Hawaii would be complete without a stop to honor all the heroes at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific commonly called the “Punchbowl.” The Punchbowl has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations. More than five million visitors come to the cemetery each year to pay their  respects to the valiant and to enjoy the panoramic view from the Punchbowl. One of the most breathtaking views of the Island of Oahu can be found while standing at the highest point on the crater’s rim.

On the Midway tour, we had a 70th Anniversary Ceremony where in place of the traditional “wreath laying” since we were in Hawaii we used a beautiful blue & gold Lei. I always make the trek to the gravesite of my Dad’s best friend at the U.S. Naval Academy as both entered the Marine Corps from the class of 1945 that graduated in 1944 in time for Okinawa. Both were replacement platoon commanders in the 1st Marine Division and Art Day gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country so I brought a scarlet & gold lei for his grave marker. There are 34 Medal of Honor recipients buried in the Punchbowl including famed correspondent Ernie Pyle who like my Dad’s friend Art was KIA during the Okinawa Campaign.

We make the cross-island trek over the mountains to the windward side of the island to Marine Corps Base-Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay to see the tremendous views and the iconic Pacific War Memorial, that is a duplicate of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, DC that honors the flag raisers on Iwo Jima. There is a crash site of LT Iida, IJN Commander of 3rd Aircraft Group, whose Mitsubishi Zero was shot down on the morning of December 7th. His body has been returned to Japan but the site is marked on base. There is an excellent static display at the memorial park.

During the MHT tours we try to get people to the sites they need to see as on the 70th Anniversary we had a relative on the USS Nevada (BB-36), the only battleship to get underway during the attack. We visited the USS Nevada Memorial at Nevada Point where the battleship was run aground to make sure it didn’t sink in the channel. It is also worth a stop at Wheeler Field that was a prime target of the Japanese due to the Army Air Corps fighter aircraft near Schofield Barracks where there is a large static display of weapons & aircraft as well as the WWII Memorial Rock.
Any trip to Hawaii is a good one but to get all these famed  sites off your “bucket list” is tremendous. MHT will return in 2021 for the 80th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, don’t miss it!