I’ve been fortunate to visit Pearl Harbor twice. The first time was as a 20 year old college junior who snuck away from an Association of American Geographers conference for a morning tour. I was 20 years old and even though I was a history major and avid reader of all things World War II, I didn’t know a damned thing. I wasn’t in a mental place to be ready to understand what I was seeing. That’s made all the more pointed when I look now at the last American survivors of that attack 75 years ago. They were all in their mid-teens then.
The second time I got the chance to stand a few feet above the water of Pearl Harbor on the memorial that straddles the shattered hulk of the Arizona I was pushing 30. I’d done a lot more reading and lived another decade of life. It was enough to give me a far different perspective of that place and its history than my earlier visit. The slow, steady trickle of oil rising from Arizona. The leis floating on the next tide. The rusted out stubs of turrets still still defiantly holding their own above the waterline.
Pearl Harbor is an active naval base; still – maybe more than ever – the hub of America’s presence in the Pacific. It’s also a monument to a time very nearly gone from living memory when the the entire world went to war. More importantly, it’s a sacred space. Sanctified as Lincoln said of an earlier battlefield of an earlier war, by the “brave men, living and dead, who struggled here… far above our poor power to add or detract.”
You owe it to yourself, if you can, to find your way to these places where America poured out the flower of its youth in defense of liberty and giants walked upon the earth.