Remembering Pearl Harbor - NBC New York

Remembering Pearl Harbor



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    American ships burn during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    PEARL HARBOR, HI--A gentle breeze stirs the water.  Just below the surface you can see remains of the battleship "Arizona", sunk in the Japanese surprise attack on December 7, 1941.  The visitor is told nearly 1,000 men remain entombed in the ship.

    Out of this dramatic moment in American history came the slogan "Remember Pearl Harbor," the battle cry that inspired us to ultimate victory in the Pacific.

    But do we remember Pearl Harbor today?  A grizzled veteran of that day, Alfred Benjamin Kame'E Amoku Rodrigues, says sadly: "I don't think many of us do." 

    Rodriques served in the Navy Bishop's Point, Pearl Harbor and on Sunday morning, December 7, was just about to sit down for breakfast when the general quarters alarm sounded.  He rushed outside to see incoming planes with rising suns red dots on their wings.  Grabbing a .30 caliber rifle he tried to shoot at the planes as they roared overhead.

    "You could actually see the faces of Japanese pilots.  They were so low."

    Dozens of American warships were sunk or damaged on December 7.  The Pacific fleet was crippled.

    Later in the war, Rodriques served aboard the battleship "Washington" which sank a Japanese battleship, the "Kirishima".  Rodriques would eventually be assigned to the Third Naval District in New York City.  He lived for a few months on Manhattan's Upper West Side, in a room at 91st Street and Columbus.

    For two or three mornings each week, Rodriques volunteers for duty, sitting outside the Pearl Harbor Museum and Library.  There he tells visitors what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the day that shall live in infamy". 

    He is encouraged that the memorial still attracts visitors -- but fears that most Americans, including many who visit Hawaii on vacation, don't realize what happened here.

    "Once in a while I get a chance to speak by video hookup to children in different parts of the United States.  I find that fifth graders are most interested in learning about this history."

    Daniel Martinez, the chief historian at the memorial, seems sad that what happened here has not inspired America and Japan to use Pearl Harbor as an inspiration for peace.  He yearns for the day when the heads of state of Japan and America might meet here in a symbolic gesture.

    It's 65 years since I last saw this island, this port.  Honolulu then was a bustling small town where sailors seemed to outnumber civilians 50-1.  The white uniforms of Navy men filled the streets.  During their hours of liberty the sailors often sought to buy trinkets to send back home.

    Honolulu had a small town look then.  The landscape now has changed radically.  Designer stores like Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo have sprouted up everywhere.  It feels like Fifth Avenue with a tropical touch. 

    On the base at Pearl Harbor, I feel nostalgic for the months I spent here.  Particularly, I remember one surprising moment when, as I walked down a road, I saw a crowd of people waving at an open car.  The man in the car was President Franklin Roosevelt.  He was here on a quick trip to consult with his Army and Navy Pacific commanders.  The President's appearance here was not revealed in advance.  Like Zelig, I just happened there when he was suddenly visible, smiling from the car, and then was whisked away.

    But the deepest impression for me is the "Arizona" and the words of tribute to this martyred vessel:

    "To the memory of the gallant men here entombed and their shipmates who gave their lives in action on December 7, 1941 on the "USS Arizona."