Did you know that the Arizona Memorial is located within the boundaries of the WWII Valour in the Pacific National Monument?
Well, might as well tell the story. In 2001, in November, after the airlines started flying again and after the nation wide shutdown of every airplane of every type, except military. But we needed to be in Maui (Hawaii) for a memorial service for my wife’s father.
Joji George Inada was born on Maui, went to school in Pre-War Japan. Joji (famously) returned home on the last boat out of Japan before the war broke out. His best friend from his village and schoolmate was returning on the next boat. There was no next boat. George enlisted in the US Army as many other Japanese-American’s did. He was one of the Nisei, the first-born in America. Many of his generation joined the Army and their war service in Europe was tremendous. The most famous, the 442nd became, for its size and length of service, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
But that is not the path George Inada took, he volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service. He had to specifically volunteer for Pacific service because of the extreme risk for a Japanese-American serving where there was a chance of being captured (as so many American servicemen were in those early years). But his excellent command of both English and fluent Japanese plus his education put him near the front lines of the fighting. In the early part of the war, the Japanese Army would transmit “in the clear” in the belief that no American could understand. And George would be listening. His service entitled him to internment in The Maui National Cemetery.
Flying to Hawaii two months after 9-11 was very interesting, and annoying, and funny. I was annoyed when some idiot in TSA insisted on Donie removing her leg brace (dangerous molded plastic) and after the first five times that I got selected to be pulled out of line and frisked (What no drink first and cigarette after?) the stupidity of it was funny. Sort of. On the other hand, very few people were flying and the airlines were lowering fares. As I remember, the two of us traveled on a round-trip ticket to Hawaii for $350 (or $175 each). I understand that it costs more today. (Quick online check…$830 for single ticket, midweek departure)
Donie’s aunt, who was Joji’s sister, drove us to the Cemetery in the pouring rain. And when it rains on Maui, it really rains. The rain suddenly stopped just as Donie got out of the car at the Cemetery. It was a long walk to her fathers grave. Eight years earlier when he died he was in the last row, next to last grave, because you don’t get an assigned plot just the next plot in line. Very much like rounds in a machine gun belt. Each time we returned the rows had lengthened and grown, file on file. Marching into the mist.When the sun shines and the mist rises, you can see the sea from this spot. When we finished and as Donie got back into the car, the rains returned. (Wow, I thought. Someones got pull!) Aloha Menemene Joji.
Donie’s relatives regaled us with many interesting stories of what it had been like on the Islands during the time that all air-flights were banned. Yes, they have boats that go between Islands. But everyone had gotten used to the convenience of having fresh bread delivered each day from Honolulu. So there were no bakeries on any of the Islands, except O’ahu. And only in the city of Honolulu where (at that time) 95% of the Hawaiian population lived. So when the flight ban was lifted the first planes from Honolulu to the other Islands were filled not with people but with fresh bread, rolls and dry cleaning.
Back in Honolulu and prior to our flight out, we finally got to make the trip to the Arizona Memorial, with a side trip to the USS Missouri. Every prior trip when we wanted to go we found that the professional tours had snapped up all the tickets. So this time I surrendered to necessity and we joined a tour. We had the funniest shuttle driver and guide, and the best story he told was about a group of Japanese Businessmen that he had in his shuttle. After they got in the bus and as he was driving them on the sightseeing tour, they asked him in heavily accented English, “Where is the Battleship Arizona?”. He replied (and here is where he got in trouble, the driver told us…) “It’s right where you guys left it! It hasn’t moved an inch!“. I can see why that would get him in trouble.
But we finally got on the boat to the Arizona Memorial. I have to say that it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
Side-note: Our old house I don’t really miss all that much, it was kind of a shack, but it held all my photos, the negatives, the slides, the prints. Including the hard drives with many hundreds of scanned images of them. Almost forty years of my work as a photographer. Lost in the fire. These few pictures I’ve posted here, were digital copies I had placed on a old online page allowed me by Earthlink. They are the scanned, size reduced (to 2001 image storage limitations) and converted to GIF. The original prints were beautiful, these are shadows. And then there are the ghosts, the images that I never got around to putting online.
I was shooting with my old Nikon N70. I took the standard pictures; the flags, the oil floating to the top of the water, the rusted remains of the gun turret awash in the waves. Then I stepped inside the memorial, the white marble wall with the names of the men lost on December 7th 1941. Then I took the shot that now exists only in my own memory. The sides of the wall next to the wall of names have openings and through those openings the sun shone upon the wall. And in that light a young boy had walked forward and leaned in over the rope and gazed intently at one name. A grandfather? A uncle he shares a name with? I never knew, but I took the picture and caught a look on the boy’s face in that beautiful light. The marble shone, the boy’s face shone. I caught the moment. And I held that picture in my hands for three more years until the fire. Now I hold the picture in my mind alone.