PEARL HARBOR 75TH ANNIVERSARY WWII MUSEUM TOUR
HONORING THE PAST INSPIRING THE FUTURE
Late in the afternoon of Dec 1st I registered at a special Reception Desk at the Moana Surf Rider Hotel in Honolulu Hawaii where I joined a group of 80 people who came to participate in the 75thAnniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The event was sponsored by the National World War II Museum located in New Orleans La. I was immediately handed a hand-written invitation “Dear Dr. Kristeller we are pleased to welcome you and cordially invite you to join the President’s table this evening at the Opening Dinner after the reception in the Ball Room Foyer. Please find your seat at the Reserved table near the stage in the Ball Room. Sincerely, The Travel Department Team.”
I was speechless.
The table of nine included Former Congressman Jim Courter, a well-respected Legislator from NJ, now Chairman of the Board of the Museum and Dr. Gordon Mueller, President and CEO of the Museum. Dr. Mueller delivered an address that set the tone for the 7-day tour.
The next day was devoted to a Symposium: Asia Aflame, The Road to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the Brink of War and Pearl Harbor in the Global Perspective. The panel members were all noted historians and published authors, recruited by the Museum.
The evening was spent at the famous Aloha Tower where entertainment by the students of the Hawaii Pacific University began with a traditional Hawaiian Chant.
Dec 3rd began with a tour of the Iolani Palace followed by a visit to the remaining gun emplacements at the Kualoa Ranch on the windward side of Oahu. The evening included a lecture “the Japanese attack plan”
Sunday Dec 4th, we first visit the submarine USS Bowfin moored at Pearl Harbor where we gingerly descend into its hull and long narrow passage way with its cramped quarters and torpedoes. This is followed by our transportation out to the Arizona Memorial by a boat manned by Marines. This is my 4th visit to the Arizona. In 1956, I began my three-year Residency in Internal Medicine at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii. My parents attended the Olympics in Australia that year and stopped in Hawaii on the way home to visit me. I mentioned their coming visit to a Navy friend who was assigned to the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Stark. My Navy friend said be at Pier such and such at 0900 next Sunday with your parents. We were there on time when the Admirals Barge in full regalia with Marine escort came along aside and took us to the wooden platform erected above the Arizona. It had a flag pole and a bronze plaque, nothing more. The flag was raised each morning and lowered each evening as the ship was never decommissioned. I still remember the chill up and down my spine as I stood there peering at the gun turret visible at the surface of the water.
2 years ago, my grandson, on leave from the Israeli Defense Forces after fighting in Gaza, came to visit me in Hawaii and we spent some prayerful time at the Arizona Memorial.
Sunday evening our group participated in the Diamond Head Luau
Monday Dec 5th, we Tour Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Field. Wheeler has a special memory for me. Prior to coming to Hawaii for my Residency, I obtained my private pilot’s license, fixed wing, single engine at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. The Air Force at Hickham Hawaii had a flying club with air craft housed at Wheeler. One Sunday I signed out a plane and I flew the same route as the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor. I could see the iron doors in the sides of the irrigation ditches of the sugar cane fields. Behind them, hidden away under the cane fields, were ammunition hoards.
In the afternoon, we visited the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. This is the newly established laboratory that identifies bodies of deceased troops so that the remains can be returned to their families. Everyone was amazed at the diligence and esprit de corps of the personnel working there under the command of General Spindler. Having been a member of an Air Force accident investigation that included identification of 5 burned bodies, I was particularly impressed with the professionalism of the laboratory.
The lecture in the evening was titled: Bastions of the Pacific.
Tuesday Dec 6th, we visit Marine Corps Air Station Ewa Field. Lunch is at a Tea House located in the heights above and overlooking Pearl Harbor. The house was used by the Japanese to spy on our fleet at Pearl.
In the afternoon, we tour the Marine Corps Air Base at Kaneohe. The lecture for the day is “D-Days in the Pacific.”
Dec 7th The Day of Infamy. We board the bus at 5 am for Kilo Pier at Pearl. We join a crowd of some 3000 people for the ceremonies that begin at 0930. The scene is indescribable. You have to see the pictures. There are a very small group of survivors of the Arizona and the other ships. There were elderly people in wheel chairs who were local kids at the time of the attack and witnessed the horror, we rubbed shoulders with medal of Honor Awardees, there were people in uniform from all branches of service and all ranks. I stopped and talked with a General when I noted that he was wearing Calvary spurs. There were Veterans from the Korean and Viet Nam wars, there were ROTC cadets, there were Boy Scout contingents. A war ship passed by and everyone in uniform saluted as its American Flag sailed past, there was a fly over formation with the missing plane.
Again, you have to see the pictures. This was the America of the Greatest Generation in which I grew up. After the ceremony, we returned to Honolulu for lunch.
At 3pm we saddle up for a visit to the Utah and Oklahoma Memorials and the Pacific Aviation Museum. At the Air Museum, a B-25 Bomber is on display. Again, memory lane for me. At Randolph, I was logging flying hours in order to qualify as a Flight Surgeon. That meant sitting for 4 hours in the Radioman’s seat of a B-25. Unless the pilot permitted me to come to the cock pit it meant 4 hours sitting in the windowless middle of the plane.
In the evening, the lecture for the day is “D-Days in the Pacific.”
It is now 6pm and we board and tour the Battleship Missouri. There is a picture of the signing of the Peace Treaty. In the lineup of Admirals is Senator McCain’s Grandfather. Also, there is Admiral Carney who later became Chief of Naval Operations. His mother was a patient of mine at Tripler.
After the tour, we have our closing reception and Farwell dinner. Dr. Mueller delivers an emotional
wrap up and receives a warm round of applause. It is a bitter sweet moment because we have all shared a tremendously moving and unforgettable 7-day adventure.
In summary, I am both exhausted and transformed.
Now all that said
Permit me to bring to your attention an extremely significant fact
At no time during the day long Ceremony honoring the fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives for our great country did the Commander in Chief of our armed forces, the President of the United States, make an appearance either in person or via television. Nor did he send an emissary. Nor did he send any communication to those gathered for the ceremony. He was conspicuous by his absence
God Bless America.