In a world still prone to violence, it was a thought provoking experience to spend some time at one of the world’s great monuments to wartime terror and heroism: the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. I came to Hawaii to relax on the sand and swim and surf and luau but for a time I stood with cold chills running along my spine as I looked over the gently crumbling remains of the great sunken warship.
For an old hippy and a person dedicated to the ideal of peace on earth, I sure seem to spend a lot of time nowadays thinking about and writing about war. But it seems the task has chosen me, and not the other way around.
The most inescapable force driving me is the fact that my Uncle Herbert Hopp was one of those heroes who enlisted in the Navy Air Corps the very next day after hearing the radio reports of the Japanese attack. Even at that, I could let it all ride as old news, ancient history. But I’ve done enough research on Herb’s record to know that he distinguished himself in battle, and did his part to say to the Japanese Imperial warmongers, “No, you can’t kill us and terrify us and scoff at us and plan our downfall, without someone standing up and challenging you and fighting your fire with some fire of his own.”
Several days after my pilgrimage to the sunken ship, where more than a thousand skeletons still moulder, I had an eerie moment of epiphany. I was standing on the windward shore of Oahu far from Pearl, peering out to the crisp, clear, blue horizon. I imagined myself standing there on a placid 80 degree morning on December 7, 1941, witnessing the roar of a flight of Japanese bombers sweeping overhead on their way to wreak their destruction. I imagined my disbelief and cold fear in the pit of my gut.
And then I imagined further. What if our soldiers and sailors hadn’t responded? Then perhaps sometime in 1945 or 1946, an even stronger Imperial Japanese Fleet would have swept over Hawaii like a tidal wave, bringing an occupying army that would have marched me and mine off to a prison camp, where the Japanese forces were notorious for cruelty, starvation, torture and murder of their hostages.
Thinking these thoughts, I realized that 70 years ago when Herb’s squadron, VGS-12, arrived at Pearl Harbor on their way to confront the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, I would have not only felt extremely proud of them, but I would have desperately wished them success. I would have seen my very life hanging in the balance.
I’ll be writing a novel in 2013 about Uncle Herb’s struggles, his successes, his wounds, and his anguish in war. But I’m no pro-war agitator. I’m dedicated to my old hippy ideal that we all can live in peace. But as long as somebody out there is filled with hate, we’d all better be prepared for a fight.
In 1913, the year Herb was born, Katharine Lee Bates wrote these lines in her song “America The Beautiful”:
“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
“Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.”
Doesn’t that bring some dew to your eyes? It does to mine.