Monday, June 17, 2013

Family Time, Unplugged

'I just spent the nicest weekend with my family. It was so nice, I just had to stop and tell you all about it. I'm still working on posts about Hawaii, but while the past few days are still fresh in my mind I'm going to write about them.

My brother and his children came up from the Houston area for a visit. We gathered at my niece's house, three generations. My siblings were there (2 sisters, 1 brother,) most of their children and even a few grandchildren. My oldest sister and her daughter live next door to each other on the same 25 acre tract of land. They have a swimming pool at one of the houses and a guest apartment above the other garage, all collectively referred to as "Carrie's Compound." We split up the cooking duty, with each of the "moms" taking a meal or two over the four-day visit. I brought lunch on Saturday, designed so everything could be eaten with fingers, outside around the pool. There was roasted shrimp, thinly sliced ham and turkey, crusty baguettes, mixed berries, grape tomatoes, watermelon and my Grandma's special ginger/molasses cookies. I brought extra of everything except the shrimp so that they would have some snack items later that evening. Not one crumb was leftover.

It was an unusually mild afternoon for a Central Texas June; the mercury stayed around 90 and the sky a little cloudy, making it very pleasant to sit in the shade of the patio and visit. At various times we swam in the pool, relaxed in the hot tub, sat around and talked, played Rumikube, created giant bubbles and generally had a great time. 

The giant bubble maker
The players of the games changed seamlessly, with people coming and going as they needed. The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable, with none of the tension sometimes endured when families gather. I was struck by how unplugged we all were. No one was talking on the phone, watching videos or playing electronic games. I, personally, am surgically attached to my iPad, but I left it in my purse all day. I will confess that I used my phone to take these photos and send a couple of text messages to my niece in Hawaii to let her know what we all were doing and that we missed her. I'll also admit that our 16 year old checked her texts a few times, but not very many. I was amazed at how long she just sat, talked and laughed with her dad; it warmed my heart. On another note, our 13 year old was grounded off her phone, else she would have been in constant "text" mode. 

My brother and his 16 year old daughter sat together for ages and just talked. She only checked her phone a few times.

Rumikube action; no batteries or cords required.

Today everyone wanted to go see the new Superman movie, so I opted to stay with "The Baby," our 3 year old Andy. He is my brother's youngest son and the delight of our family, coming along when we didn't think there would be anymore babies. Andy and I were alone together for about 5 hours and had the most delightful time. He is a big chatterbox (ahem, my nephew) so I talked, made up stories, read to and sang with him all day. The television, iPads and movies were all there, but when, personally needing a little break, I asked him if he wanted to watch any of them, he said, "No, let's play." That really amazed me, given how much he is fascinated by the iPad, something I wrote about last year when he was still only two. You can read about it here. 

It just goes to prove again to grownups that what children crave the most is not more stuff, but more time together. And not just being there physically, but participating, even when we are tired and want to turn on the television to babysit for a while. I played all afternoon and ended up coming home so energized that I cleaned and leaf-vacuumed our pool before I collapsed for a nap. It made a memory I'll always have. 

I'll say it again, "Who could resist that face?" Not me for sure.

Thanks for stopping by today. I'll be on a gambling trip with one of my friends, celebrating her birthday, for the next few days. Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Remember Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of D-Day. Sixty-nine years ago, June 6, 1944, was the day the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy and began the liberation of Western Europe from the control of Nazi Germany during World War II. To commemorate this anniversary, I am writing this post about Pearl Harbor. I know I'm off by a continent and an ocean or two, but same war, similar tragedies.

Officially the Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona memorial are named The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Last year they completed a multimillion dollar renovation of the Visitor Center there, adding new exhibit galleries, interactive displays and audio components to detail the events of the "date that will live in infamy" and the remembrances of those involved. The exhibit buildings are open and streamlined, with guests moving from one to another, chronologically learning about the day of the attack and remainder of the Pacific War. The USS Arizona Memorial lies out in the harbor, accessible only by boat. Visitors are issued tickets for a specific time to board the boat, with trips running continuously throughout the day. 

When we arrived in Honolulu, one of the first things we did was go online to reserve tickets to view the Arizona Memorial. We quickly found out that all the advance tickets for the days we would be able to go were gone. The only tickets that might be available were those that are distributed each day on a first come, first served basis (FCFS.) We thought we were going to be out of luck and had just about resigned ourselves to viewing the remainder of the exhibits, missing the Arizona. But then, Yay(!), Jeff to the rescue. My wonderful nephew, stationed at Pearl Harbor/Hickam AFB, had taken days off to be with us while we were on Oahu. He had one meeting he had to attend, so, on that day, he went in very early and was able to get the FCFS tickets for us all. What a sweetie. 

We arrived a little more than an hour before our ticket time to wander through the exhibit halls of the Visitor Center. Among other items, the exhibits feature giant, wall-sized murals which show aspects of the attack, complete with Braille. Here is a photo of one of the murals showing positioning of the ships in Battleship Row and the direction of approach of the Japanese bombers. 

Here is a shot of my approximation of the same approach as it is today. The battleship Missouri is docked on the left, the Arizona Memorial on the right and Ford Island in the background.

This shot shows Scott and I in front of one of the murals so that you can get a perspective of how large they are.

Before you board the boat that goes out to the Arizona, you see a 20 minute film (very good) about the attack on the Battleships. It contains a good deal of live footage and photos shot during that day. 

Marsha, Jeff and Scott waiting to enter the theatre.

Battleship Missouri, accessible for tours from Ford Island.
As we enter the USS Arizona Memorial, the group gets quiet, reflective and respectful.  The shattered remains of the sunken vessel are all around. The memorial basically straddles the midship area. The Japanese aerial bomb that struck the forward section of the USS Arizona ignited the forward magazine causing a catastrophic explosion that sunk the battleship in nine minutes.

USS Arizona Memorial (aerial view).jpg
I captured this overhead image from Wikipedia.

 A WWII veteran gazes down upon the wreckage. He and others toss flowers in to honor the dead.

The far end of the Memorial contains a shrine listing the names of the 1177 sailors and marines from the USS Arizona killed in the attack. The ship holds the remains of 1102 of them.

There were 1.4 million gallons of fuel on the USS Arizona when she sank. Over 60 years later, approximately nine quarts still surfaces from the ship each day. Some Pearl Harbor survivors have referred to the oil droplets as "Black Tears." 

President Dwight Eisenhower signed the law to create the USS Arizona Memorial in 1958. However, the public law stipulated that the monument would be built without federal funding because of budget restraints due to the Korean War. The Pacific War Memorial Commission was tasked with raising the $500,000 required it build the structure. Several organizations and individuals helped in the effort to raise the required amount. In 1958, the Territory of Hawaii contributed the initial $50,000. On December 3rd, 1958 the popular television series, “This is Your Life” hosted by Ralph Edwards, featured Samuel Fuqua, Medal of Honor recipient and the senior surviving officer from the USS Arizona. This broadcast kicked off the public fundraising campaign. Over $95,000 was raised for the new permanent structure. Three years later, The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, hosted a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena, raising over $64,000. The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) partnered with the Revell Model Company to sell plastic models of the battleship USS Arizona. Enclosed inside the kit was donation information on the instruction sheet. This led to contributions of over $40,000. Finally, on September 6th, 1961, freshman Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye secured federal funding, which provided the final $150,000 to complete the construction, so in the end, public money was required to meet the goal. The legislation stated that the Memorial was “to be maintained in honor and commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.” 

Several days after this visit, Jeff took us to his office building on Hickham AFB. It now houses the Pacific Air Forces Command, but it 1941 it was the large barracks fired upon while most of the men were sleeping on that long ago Sunday morning. 

The main lobby holds a disply of "Old Glory," the flag which flew over the base during the attack. 

The interior courtyard has been named The Courtyard of Heros, commemorating those that died in the Pacific War. 

Bullet strafing from December 7, 1941 remain preserved in the walls of the building. 

These next photos show the barracks as they are now, and how they were then. 

Hallway today

Same location, a sleeping bay in 1941.

Sailors, relaxing around the radio in 1941.

The same location today.
These and other images of that day have implanted themselves firmly in my mind. I've had dreams of the attack since this visit, placing myself as a civilian living on Oahu, standing paralyzed, looking at the skies as the Japanese planes flew in from the North Shore, down the lush green canyons to Pearl Harbor. In my dream I felt the panic they must have felt and agonized over the deaths of all those young men, horribly awakened to fight for their lives.  The website of The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument says it well:

More than just a significant military battle in world history, the events at Pearl Harbor awakened the local military and civilian residents to the character of war. At the moment bombs began to fall, these men and women were instantly engaged into the depths of the human condition.

December 7, 1941 Losses United States Japan
Personnel Killed 2,390
Navy 1,999 64
Marine Corps 109
Army and Army Air Forces 233
Civilian 49
Personnel Wounded 1,178 unknown
Navy 710
Marine Corps 69
Army and Army Air Forces 364
Civilian 35
Sunk or Beached** 12 5
Damaged* 9
Destroyed 164 29
Damaged 159 74
* Figures are subject to further review
** All U.S. Ships, except Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma were salvaged and later saw action.
Lest we forget.
Thank you for stopping by. Please take a moment today to remember the lives lost on the beaches of Normandy, at Pearl Harbor, in WWII and all other conflicts.