A poignant reflection on a moment of mutual respect at the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor
My husband was a member of the US Air Force and during the early 1970s we were stationed at Wheeler Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii. One of the first attractions that I wanted to visit was the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
My father fought in the Philippines during World War II, my brothers were both in the military and I was a history buff, so the memorial was a definite must-see. We packed up the two kids and waited in line to get on the US Navy boat that would bring us to the deck of the USS Arizona. It was a long line of tourists who waited with us; some were American and some were Japanese.
Once we were on board the memorial, we walked around until we stood before the wall that commemorates all the US Navy sailors and US Marine crew members who died on the ship during the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. A respectful hush had fallen over the crowd; the only voices to be heard were the tour guides.
I looked at the wall and said a silent prayer for the lost souls buried beneath the monument. I prayed for their families and for all Americans who lost loved ones that day. As an American, that is what comes naturally to me; I pay my respects to the sacrifice these men made on behalf of our country.
Next to me, an elderly Japanese couple stood and gazed at the same wall and I wondered to myself what the memorial meant to them. That day was a victory for the Japanese; they dealt a crippling blow to our armed forces in a surprise attack. Did this couple see the wall and picture their enemies below their feet?
I wondered what I would do if I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Would I look at that memorial and remember that the bombs we dropped on the land resulted in the surrender of Japan to American Forces? Would I feel that day was a victory to be celebrated?
The elderly couple held each other’s hand and gave a small bow of respect to the wall with its list of names of the dead. They turned to me and noticed that I was watching them. They both gave me a smile and then surprised me with another bow in my direction. I smiled back and returned their bow. The couple walked away and rejoined their Japanese tour guide.
I had my answer. I knew that this couple made the journey to the Memorial to pay their respects and to honor our dead. Not as victors, but as allies who recognized the losses we suffered.
The victors and the conquered together suffer painful losses during wartime. Parents lose their children, children lose their parents, and whole families perish under the banner of war. Both sides count and mourn their dead.
I hope to stand in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial someday and give the Japanese monument a bow to pay homage to the thousands and thousands of lives lost in the bombings. For, although we were on different sides of WWII, I believe that we should view and mourn the loss of lives suffered by both sides with equal respect.
I want to return that bow and return that couple’s respect.