Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, December 6, 2015

I Still Remember Pearl Harbor

It happened long before most of my friends were born. But for me, December 7 still has a special meaning, and is one of my earliest childhood memories. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's voice poured from our bulky living room Philco, and Mama had started to cry. She'd received a phone call from her brother, who said he was likely to set sail shortly in defense of our nation.

Not long ago I gathered together my memories...this is how I remember Pearl Harbor.

From Sea to Shining Sea

"Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.” –Robert A. Heinlein

My New Year's resolution in 1976 was to see more of the United States. I decided a significant start would be to watch the Tall Ships sail into New York Harbor. I'd heard that sixteen of the stately vessels from all around the world would participate in a special Parade of Ships on July 4, led by the United States Coast Guard Academy's Eagle. All would bear the tricolor star insignia of the Bicentennial. The mere thought of witnessing this in person stirred within me a sense of patriotism I'd long thought dormant.

Not only had I never been to New York City, I'd never seen the Atlantic Ocean, so it seemed only proper to celebrate the glory of this great country by crossing the continent. A native Californian, I revered the Pacific, but our country, I reminded myself, was beautiful from sea to shining sea.

My husband, a Long Beach policeman, immediately bid for a July vacation slot. Summer shift schedules had to be charted months in advance, to accommodate officers who wanted to take their children on school vacation trips.

"I don't know for certain about time off," Bob warned me in early January, "but don't worry. We'll do something special to celebrate the holiday."

"Nothing else could be the same as the thrill of seeing the Tall Ships," I remember replying.

I'd already planned how we could travel on from New York City to Boston or Philadelphia. I'd never visited any of the original thirteen colonies that our forefathers had founded. I longed to see the Liberty Bell and where the Boston Tea Party took place. I wanted to pay patriotic homage to it all during this special year.

Bob had sighed. "We'll see what the watch commander decides. We'll know in another month or so which weeks I'll get for vacation."

In late March we learned that he'd had been granted the last two weeks of July. No Tall Ships for us on the Fourth. I immediately asked our travel agent to find some tour deals later in July for the area I wanted to visit, but, she reported, it was already too late. Even motels in outlying East Coast areas were fully booked for this special summer.

I tried not to despair. After all, this would be a landmark year for our family. Our son would graduate from high school in mid-June, and recently he'd announced his intentions to spend the summer hanging out with buddies. Old enough now to stay home alone, he'd be starting college in the fall.

Additionally, I'd been accepted at UCLA's graduate school of social welfare and in September would begin driving across Los Angeles County to attend classes. There'd be little time during the next two years for Bob and me to travel anywhere together.

Could we find an alternative destination that would commemorate the spirit of America? I finally hit upon a resolution.

A few years earlier, in 1959, Hawaii finally had been admitted to the Union. I'd never been there, either. If we couldn't explore the original colonies, why not investigate our 50th state?

I'd asked Bob once before about the possibility of a trip to the islands.

"No," he'd said. "I've no interest in going back to Hawaii. I was there for basic training at Schofield Barracks back in the '50s before I went to Korea. That was enough for me."

This time I altered my pitch.

"If I can't see the Tall Ships, I want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor."

Bob hesitated. "You know I'm not into swimming or sunbathing. I'm a brickyard blond. I sunburn. I don't tan."

I nodded. "We don't have to spend our days at the beach. I burn, too." I smiled and took his hand. "You know that my earliest memories are tied to World War II. We'll visit the Punchbowl, too."

I figured Bob wouldn't want to miss seeing the site of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific where we'd pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

I continued. "Going there would be very patriotic. After all, I still remember how my parents hushed my sister and me as they listened on the Philco console to President Roosevelt. Somebody gave us a doll, a nurse
wearing a Remember Pearl Harbor banner. My sister even won a war bond for singing in a talent contest."

Bob gave my hand a squeeze. "All right. It doesn’t sound like too bad an idea. You're right that it would be timely. And maybe we can hit a luau or two, and even see Don Ho."

On July 4th as usual we strolled a quarter mile over to the block party at a friend's home. Each year he and his neighbors petitioned the city to be able to cordon off the street and erect volleyball nets. Everybody set out their barbecues. All afternoon the ocean breezes wafted the mouthwatering aroma of grilling burgers throughout the neighborhood. We slathered on sun lotion and boogied to the latest hit, the Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight."

We all capped the day by trouping inside to watch a broadcast of a massive fireworks display as the Tall Ships sailed up the Hudson River.

Two weeks later, on a clear-skied Sunday morning, Bob and I sailed out to the Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and placed our leis in the water near the sunken USS Arizona. I watched as the chains of tiny cymbidium orchids drifted back towards shore, and said a quick silent prayer for the souls of the slain sailors. As I reached into my purse for a tissue, I noticed Bob wiping a tear from his cheek, so I handed him one, as well.

In subsequent years we finally got to New York City. We saw in the 1980s in Times Square. We sailed past the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry the next night, and caught a close up of the Lady aglow, with her torch held high.

Subsequently, there have been other memorable patriotic moments in my life. In 1994 I even celebrated, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the Quinto Centenario at the lighthouse in the Dominican Republic, the five hundredth celebration of the discovery of the New World, on the very island where Columbus' sailors first set foot.

I've since paid a call to Philadelphia's Liberty Bell, but not yet to Boston Harbor, scene of the Tea Party. I've lived and worked in Washington DC, and attended briefings at the Capitol and the National Press Club. But I've yet to witness the elegant majesty of the Tall Ships in sail.

Nonetheless, I know in my heart I've most deeply felt the stir of the spirit of America that long ago Bicentennial summer. My patriotism hadn't been rekindled in New England as I'd originally planned, but rather when I found myself afloat on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor…where over 2400 Americans lost their lives in service to our country.
Here's a link to FDR's stirring address to the nation:


  1. Wonderful piece. I've travels to Hawaii, but have yet to visit Pearl Harbor. I have been told by those who have that it is an emotional experience that is never forgotten.

  2. We also spent two weeks there in the summer of 1976 for the July 4th celebration.