May 21, 2013 — I will always have the deepest respect for the men and women who serve in the United States military sacrificing time away from their families, missing life's momentous occasions, serving in dangerous areas and sometimes paying the ultimate price with their lives.
I will be the first to admit, I take the freedom and life we enjoy for granted, forgetting that men and women have died for our safety and liberty. A recent stop at the Pearl Harbor Memorial reminded me of the sacrifices made by those who enlist in the military and the impact of that visit still sits in my soul.
In April, I traveled to Hawaii to visit a long-time friend who lives on the island of Oahu. As soon as I knew I was going, Pearl Harbor was immediately added to the top of my list of things to see. When people ask what the best part of the trip was, the memorial immediately comes to mind. It is one thing to read about Japan's attack on Dec. 7, 1941 — "A date that will live in infamy" — in the books, but entirely another to see it.
To look out in the harbor set in the natural beauty of Hawaii and imagine the battleships of the United States' Pacific Fleet lined up majestically with men set to enjoy their Sunday. The calm disappeared as Japanese planes roared in and caused horrific devastation, black smoke polluted the sky, the rancid smell of burning oil filled the air and broken bodies in the water.
A short boat ride drops visitors off at the USS Arizona Memorial, which straddles the sunken hull of the battleship that exploded into a fiery inferno after what is believed a bomb hit the forward magazines. The ship burned for 2-1/2 days and was so badly destroyed it was one of three battleships that could not be put back into service. More than a thousand men died on the Arizona and most are entombed there. A solemn, respectful air takes over as people walk into the white memorial, built with a sunken middle and two peaks on either end. Seven large windows are located in the middle room allowing people to look out at the ship’s remains, ironically boasting signs of new life, coral.
The smell of oil permeates the air as several quarts of oil leaks everyday, although visitors were told it is monitored for environmental impact. Survivors from the Pearl Harbor attack have the option of returning to their ship and crew when they die and national park service divers will place their cremated ashes inside gun turret four.
A marble wall in the back room of the memorial has the names of those killed engraved into it, men who didn't stand a chance when the Arizona exploded. They certainly weren't the only casualties that day and we know the attack on Pearl Harbor launched the United States into World War II, adding a long list of names of soldiers who have died while serving our country.
Monday May 27 is Memorial Day, a time set aside for people to honor men and women who died while serving the United States. Memorial Day began after the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1968. We also honor those who died in World War I, Korea, Vietnam and now, Iraq and Afghanistan.
On one of the museum walls at Pearl Harbor is a quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which said, "Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them."
I took a picture of the quote, a reminder our freedom came at a price.
As we enjoy an extra day off of work, let's not forget to take a moment to honor those men and women who have died while fighting for our country.
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