Highlights of our visit to the USS Bowfin, Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor and a good story about an honorable man.
All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
After visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, we spent the rest of our day touring the other museums and exhibits in and around the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The first of these, the USS Bowfin, shed additional light on my dad’s wartime service as a submariner.
Known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” because of nine successful war patrols following the initial attacks, the USS Bowfin submarine is now a floating museum. Guests are able to walk through the sub with a guided headset tour that details its patrols and describes what it was like to live submerged beneath ocean waters for months at a time.
When he was still with us, I once took a tour with my dad of the USS Blueback, a submarine anchored at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry [OMSI] in Portland. At the time, Dad shared with me a little about his daily life as a submariner, and one thing really got my attention.
Like most vessels of the time, his sub used a sleeping arrangement called “hot-racking” (also known as hot bunking), which is the practice of assigning up to three (usually low-ranking) crew members to a single bed or “rack” to reduce berthing space, with each one having a different assigned bunk time. A crew member would work his duty shift, and then return to lie down on a rack immediately after it was vacated by another crew member who had just left for his duty shift. (Thus, he lay down on a “hot” rack.)
Dad said this hot-racking system often caused trouble and frustration (who’da thunk?); however, his assignment as a Torpedoman’s Mate [TM] offered an interesting berthing alternative: apparently TM’s often slept in empty torpedo tubes!
Just the idea of living underwater on a sub sets my mild claustrophobia on edge, and then to sleep in a tiny tube? Thanks but no thanks.
Exhibits aboard the USS Bowfin include an impressive collection of submarine-related artifacts such as submarine weapon systems, photographs, paintings, battle flags, original recruiting posters, and detailed submarine models, all illustrating the history of the U.S. Submarine Service.
PACIFIC AVIATION MUSEUM
The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor on Historic Ford Island occupies two hangars and the Ford Island Control Tower that still bear the scars of our nation’s aviation battlefield. Our experience at the Pacific Aviation Museum began in Hangar 37, a 42,000 square foot former seaplane hangar that survived the December 7, 1941 attack. When we arrived, we first watched a short movie that covered the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The hallway leading from the movie to the exhibit area is lined with photos of what life was like in the Islands before 1941.
Upon entering the exhibit area of 25,000 square feet, the first thing we saw was an authentic Japanese Zero in a diorama setting on the deck of the Japanese carrier Hiryu at dawn on December 7th.
Also in the hangar is a light civilian plane that was airborne and shot during the Oahu attack. Other exhibits include an actual B-25B Mitchell similar to one used in the Doolittle Raid on Japan in April, 1942, and an authentic F4F Wildcat, featured in a Guadalcanal diorama that tells the story of the “Cactus Air Force.”
The second hanger making up the Pacific Aviation Museum – Hangar 79 – is an 80,000 square foot seaplane hangar. It’s blue glass windows are still riddled with bullet holes left by the Japanese attack.
During the war it was a maintenance and engine repair facility, filled with fighters, bombers and patrol aircraft that were based in Pearl Harbor or en route to the front lines. Today, it holds modern jets and historic helicopters.
USS MISSOURI (“Mighty Mo”)
USS Missouri became one of the world’s most famous ships when Japanese and Allied representatives attended a ceremony aboard ship in Tokyo Bay to sign the formal document of Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.
As we entered the concourse approaching the USS Missouri, we were greeted by a larger-than-life statue of Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet during World War II. Nimitz was on deck and signed for the United States when Japan formally surrendered on board the Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. I was touched by the quote that graced the podium upon which his statue stood:
They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side…To them, we have a solemn obligation — the obligation to ensure that their sacrifice will help make this a better and safer world in which to live.
―Chester W. Nimitz
The ship has a plaque in its deck to commemorate the exact spot where the table stood with the surrender document that was signed to bring World War II to a close.
During our tour, we heard one story about the Captain of the Missouri that will stay with me, because it reflects an honor and humanity that far transcends its circumstances. (Or as my dad would say, he was just a good man doing the right thing.)
On April 11, 1945, a 19-year old Japanese “Kamikaze” pilot attacked the Missouri and struck the side of the ship. The ship was not badly damaged, but fire erupted and the deck was covered with debris. As the crew was cleaning up, they discovered the pilot’s body among the wreckage and prepared to wash him overboard. It was then that Captain William M. Callaghan, Missouri’s commanding officer, intervened.
Captain Callahan ordered the body to be prepared for a burial at sea. Further, as it was customary to shroud the body of a fallen soldier in the flag of his own country, he asked the crewmen to sew a Japanese flag to drape over young man’s body. After the flag was created from a sheet and red signal flag, the crew then gathered. A Marine honor guard fired a salute, and then a bandsman stepped forward and sent the lingering notes of “Taps” adrift across the sea.
Senior Chaplain, Commander Roland Faulk, then stepped to the head of the burial detail and concluded, saying simply: “We commit his body to the deep.” The burial detail tilted the flag-draped body and lowered the weighted white canvas shroud over the side and watched as it disappeared into ocean depths below.
Captain Callaghan, we were told, later reflected that he looked at the pilot simply as a man serving his country, the same as anyone in military service. He was doing his job. Moreover, he had served honorably and paid the ultimate price, and he deserved to be treated with the respect due a warrior.
At the conclusion of this story, we were shown the footprints, now permanently fixed on the deck, where the crew stood. The dents from the April 11, 1945 attack remain on the Missouri‘s hull to this day.
In closing, I leave you with two thoughts: First, these words from General Douglas MacArthur, excerpted from the speech he delivered at the Surrender Ceremony on the Missouri that marked the end of World War II.
It is my earnest hope – indeed the hope of all mankind – that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world found upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice.
And finally, a metaphor, found growing out of a small break in the deck of the USS Missouri.
Tickets to tour all of these sites are available at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Visitors Center.