Thursday, December 07, 2006

On an early Sunday morning long ago*

Sixty-five years ago today, Japanese forces attacked a sleepy airbase on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. About 16 months ago, I made a trip out there myself, to see what has become a name that looms large in the American consciousness. Pearl Harbor: everyone knows about it, and everyone instantly grows quiet and somber when it gets mentioned.

Cole and I got up at the crack of dawn on my last morning in Hawaii, and we drove out to Pearl Harbor together in Scott's big blue whale of a van. We arrived early enough to beat most of the crowds, and were ushered into a small theater where we watched a film - actual newsreel footage of the attack. (I always wonder who is brave and foolhardy enough to film these things as they're actually happening.)

After the film, we wandered around the exhibits for a while, reading all sorts of information about the war, both armies, the ships and other equipment they used, battles on other Pacific islands, and firsthand accounts from servicemen, which I found most interesting. Many of them were near my age, which was 21 at the time. They witnessed horrific destruction that day, and lost people who were very dear to them. War is no respecter of persons. It cuts down the young, old, infirm or healthy, and wounds the hearts of all.

The morning ended with a short ferry ride out into the harbor, where the remains of the USS Arizona still lie sunken under a white floating dock of sorts. There is a wall of names, much like the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. - the casualty list of those who died that day. There's an open space surrounded by railing where you can look down into the water, and I remember seeing flowers. Bunches of flowers - leis and bouquets that people had brought in memory of their loved ones or in honor of the soldiers. And on the water around, patches of oil still leak up from one of the hatches. A fitting, if obvious, metaphor for the fact that wars don't end when peace treaties are signed. Their effects go on and on and on.

That day, Cole told me about a song he was writing called "Infamy," which has since become one of my favorite JamisonPriest songs. It's about a woman who lost her husband at Pearl Harbor, and it weaves together the attack, swing dance, grief and memory. That song has perhaps done more than anything to ensure that I will never forget. In my mind with the images of the Arizona and the exhibits is an image of her, remembering...

She dreams about a soldier in the dark
Shaven face, a pretty diamond ring
She holds onto a chain of metal tags
And fifty years unbroken wondering

In her closet underneath his uniform
A pair of Mary Janes that she has never worn
He brought them home to her in 1941
The day their child was born
And now she's waiting patiently for Friday night
The big band and the horns...

You can read the full lyrics at And whether you do or don't, stop and take a moment to remember.

*From "Infamy" by Cole Bennett


Blogger Scott said...

"The big band and the horns..." is such a powerful line. It's hard to imagine those carefree sailors, the night before, swinging in the dance hall (where the Arizona band played late into the night).

Great post, Katie!

10:09 PM  
Blogger DISCOM said...

That is absolutley stunning....

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What did You do after graduation katie? You seem to have kept up with all the Englishy fun. I'm at a loss a week from graduation. Help! Sarah HS

11:38 AM  
Blogger Laurie said...

Beautiful post, Katie.

Scott, I often think of the very same thing. It's haunting.

Cole's Infamy means a great deal to me. I tear up every time I listen. Thanks for sharing it.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Candy said...

I had two uncles at Pearl Harbor. They both lived. One my mom's brother and one my dad's before my parents ever met. One of my other uncles took part in the Bataan Death March and was a prisoner of war for 3 years. He also lived, but not for much longer. I love the lyrics. Great post, Katie.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

Katie..this song is beautiful..I saw this special on Pearl Harbour a few years ago and it showed two very emotional old soldiers, one Japanese, the other American, throwing leis into the water at Peart Harbour. These men know the story about fighting for each one of their countries and the sadness death brings..

9:26 AM  

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