Veterans Column: Remembering Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona Memorial
By Andy Ostroth, 30-year Navy Veteran and GCVF Volunteer
Nine months ago, I hoped this coronavirus would be over by now, but that was wishful thinking. Many of our events and traditional celebrations are scaled down, live-streamed or canceled to reduce the spread.
For example, Monday marks the 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, the usual ceremonies are virtual this year and the last remaining survivors will not attend in person. Disappointing, but probably the right thing to do for everyone’s health.
For me, Pearl Harbor brings to mind personal experiences with seeing and visiting the USS Arizona Memorial. My first time in Hawaii was in 1979.
I enlisted in the Navy after high school, and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger. The ship departed San Diego in February 1979 for a deployment, and her first port of call was Pearl Harbor.
I was fresh out of boot camp and military trade school, and was ordered to the flight deck in dress uniform to “man the rails.” I was vaguely aware of rendering honors from boot camp lessons, but I was unappreciative of the significance of this tradition.
As our ship passed near the Arizona Memorial, we heard the shrill whistle of the boatswain’s pipe and the command, “Attention to Port!” followed by “Hand Salute!”
The silence was deafening as we held our salute for several moments while we sailed dead slow past the Arizona Memorial. I felt a lump in my throat as we passed the memorial, the sunken Navy battleship beneath it, and our fallen predecessors interred inside its hull.
From that day forward, I had a newfound respect for traditions that I previously not had much use for.
Years later, I got a second chance to see the Arizona Memorial, also a benefit of being in the Navy. The year was 1997, and my commanding officer and others in my unit had a military conference and preoperational meetings to attend for a few days at Naval Station Pearl Harbor.
My CO asked me if anyone in the unit was close to reenlistment, and if so, did he or she have any interest in reenlisting on the Arizona Memorial? In fact, we had two sailors interested in this offer.
We were in a squadron that flew the P-3C Orion, its primary mission was Anti-Submarine Warfare. We were able to fly to Oahu via military and once there we set up a special tour of the Arizona Memorial through military channels rather than the National Park Service, which normally does the tours.
The chief coxswain’s mate gave us an extensive tour of Ford Island and the other damage from the attacks on Dec. 7 1941, including the USS Utah and USS West Virginia. He took us to the memorial and dropped us off after visiting hours, so that we could perform the reenlistments without interruptions from the public.
Our sailors stood above over 1,100 sailors beneath them entombed within the Arizona, and swore or affirmed to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Given the location, it was quite moving.
During this trip, we learned that Arizona sailors who survived the attack can choose to be interred with their shipmates within the Arizona by Navy divers. We learned about great acts of courage during the events of Dec. 7, 1941.
One example is of mess cook Doris “Dorie” Miller, who carried his mortally wounded CO to a safe place and with no training manned a .50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun, possibly shooting down up to six enemy aircraft before abandoning his ship, the USS West Virginia.
Later, I learned about Lou Conter, one of two remaining survivors of the Arizona. Now 99 years old, he was on the stern of the ship when the bomb exploded. He went on to become an enlisted pilot in World War II and was shot down twice.
He reminds us that “Pearl Harbor was only 3 ½ hours of a four-year war.” Conter is disappointed that he can’t come to Pearl Harbor this year for the remembrance ceremony, but he can’t wait for next year when he turns 100, and will mark the 80th anniversary of this event.
Let’s celebrate his optimism and hope he’s right!
Source: VC Star article from December 7, 2020