We can't hope to know what it was like, but Pearl Harbor still holds mystiqueA number of people I’ve known who reach their 60s and retirement have used the so-called Golden Years to travel around the country. Well, Nancy and I have never really been big travelers. If there isn’t a kid or a grandkid at the end of the trip, there isn’t much reason to make the journey.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
A number of people I’ve known who reach their 60s and retirement have used the so-called Golden Years to travel around the country.
Well, Nancy and I have never really been big travelers. If there isn’t a kid or a grandkid at the end of the trip, there isn’t much reason to make the journey. For us, the journey has never been an end in itself. It’s about the destination and how much of our family is at that destination.
Still, we were asked once where we’d like to go if we could make a trip. Nancy, if I remember correctly, said she’d always thought she might like to see Hawaii. I said I’d like to travel to all of the Civil War battlefields. We looked at each other and kind of said, “Seriously?”
I’m not sure why, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to stand on the ground where some of those bloody awful battles were fought in this country’s war with itself. Chickamauga, Antietam, Shiloh, Manassas, Vicksburg and Gettysburg, all of them and dozens and dozens more represent a horrendous war we fought among ourselves. How in the world did this nation become so divided that it went to war with itself? I’ve read the histories, and I understand what some of the forces were that led to the war. That doesn’t answer the question, though. How did the nation ever become so divided that a civil war was an acceptable solution for anyone, much less whole armies?
I don’t picture Nancy getting too excited about visiting those long-ago fields of fire, and whenever I’ve mentioned my travel wish to others, they kind of roll their eyes and suggest Paris or New York City or even Omaha.
If Nancy should have her travel wish granted, I think I’d enjoy a trip to Hawaii with her. After all, the place holds all sorts of attractions for me. It was the setting for “From Here to Eternity,” one of my early favorite novels and a movie I can watch a hundred times just to see Frank Sinatra as the tough little Pvt. Angelo Maggio.
The novel is set at a time just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the concluding scenes take place during and right after the surprise attack. Another of my early favorite books was a simple thing called “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.” It was written by a pilot who was among Jimmy Doolittle’s raiders in the B-25 bombing of Tokyo that President Roosevelt ordered in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack. Between those two books I was able to cover in print in my younger days all of the scenes that were on display in the recent film, “Pearl Harbor.”
Much as I’d like to stand on the ground of the Civil War battles, I’d also like to go to Pearl Harbor, stand near the water and recreate in my mind the things I read in the books of my younger days. I know only what I’ve read, but that’s enough to give me at least a glimpse of what went on that December morning in 1941. No one who wasn’t there can know what it was like, of course. Imagination is a powerful thing, but it doesn’t approach the reality of being in the water with dozens of other sailors, with burning ships towering above you and enemy airplanes spraying bullets your way. The most vivid imagination doesn’t approach the reality of being deep inside a sinking warship and knowing there are no way you’ll make it out.
I would like the opportunity to stand near the place where those things happened, to reflect on what that day must have been like and what those sailors and soldiers must have been thinking. Maybe I’d see images of Burt Lancaster or Montgomery Clift, but maybe, if I were fortunate, I’d see the gray, creased faces of the South Dakota veterans who rode together as survivors of Pearl Harbor float in the state’s World War II Memorial dedication in 2001.
And maybe I’d come just a little closer to understanding what they saw and felt and did.
Terry Woster’s column appears Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.