Lessons learnedIt turns out the warriors of Pearl Harbor still have lessons to teach, some far more relevant today than they ever imagined they would be at this late stage in their lives.
on Battleship Row
aid terror victims
Dec. 7 survivors have advicePunchbowl to recall Pearl Harbor
to help the victims of Sept. 11
By Christine Donnelly
Since Sept. 11, the men and women who survived Pearl Harbor have increasingly been sought out as examples of how to rise from defeat, how to cope with the worst life can dish out. And the families of those who died on Dec. 7, 1941, have been cited as stoic models for the hundreds of families who lost loved ones in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania in the terror attacks.
Their lessons resonate in Hawaii every year around this time, but even more so this year because 600 New Yorkers directly affected by the World Trade Center terrorism will be vacationing in Honolulu just as hundreds of Pearl Harbor survivors and their families gather here to mark the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack that killed 2,390 Americans on Oahu and plunged the United States into World War II.
The New York group, comprised mostly of widows, children and other family members of rescue workers killed when the twin towers collapsed, is being invited to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association ceremony on Dec. 7 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
"Hopefully, they can look to the Pearl Harbor survivors as an example of how to cope with this burden that they will carry for the rest of their lives," said Punchbowl director Gene Castagnetti. They "could learn from the Pearl Harbor survivors and from the family members of those who did not survive about how to cope with that loss, knowing that to honor the spirit of your loved one, they would want you to go on and live the ideals of this nation."
Castagnetti said he would not know until later this week how many of the New York visitors would attend the ceremony, but said he could accommodate all 600 should all wish to attend. Representatives of the group will be invited to lay a wreath saluting the Americans who died on Dec. 7, 1941, as well as honoring those who died on Sept. 11, he said.
"Obviously, it's a very somber time for them. We hope being in Hawaii, with its people and aloha, as well as the example of our veterans, will help them heal," said Castagnetti.
The free trips -- including charter flights on Hawaiian Airlines, hotel rooms in Waikiki and meal and attraction vouchers -- were offered through New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's office to police, firefighters and emergency medical services workers at ground zero and to the survivors of rescue workers killed there.
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which is coordinating the vacations, has released little information, in order to protect the visitors' privacy and avoid the appearance of exploiting their tragedy. Tourism officials also don't want to deflect public attention from events marking the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, or offend military veterans and family members traveling to Hawaii at their own expense.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association has about 7,000 active members nationwide, all of whom were serving in the military on Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941. About 800 members -- and thousands of their family members -- are gathering in Honolulu this week for reunions, memorials, conferences and other events.
Hundreds are expected to attend the Punchbowl ceremony. Among the scheduled speakers is Ed Chappell, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, who as a 17-year-old sailor aboard the main deck of the USS Maryland survived the torpedoes, bombs and machine-gun fire that hit Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row on Dec. 7, 1941.
Chappell said he and other Pearl Harbor veterans expect to meet the New Yorkers at the Punchbowl ceremony. His message to them would be the same one he began learning himself on that hellish Sunday morning 60 years ago: "l guess what I'd tell them is that as hard as it is sometimes, they just have to face that it happened, and they've got to go on with their own lives. You learn to bite the bullet and go on. You can't change history. All you can do is live your life, and live it well to honor those you lost."
The Sept. 11 attacks brought long-buried memories and emotions rushing back for many Pearl Harbor veterans, including himself, said Chappell, now 77, and a retired police officer and polygraph examiner living in Arizona.
"For years I used to dream about Pearl Harbor and that kind of subsided with time, but this damn thing in New York kind of started it all up again," he said.
One of Chappell's most vivid memories is the look in the eye of a Japanese pilot machine-gunning his ship. "I can still see that face, looking at us grinning. He was so close I could have hit him with a rock, had I had a rock."
The survivors of Sept. 11 may grapple with anger and hate for years, along with "survivor's guilt," Pearl Harbor survivors say. "You never forget, especially those who died. But you have to move on, let go of the hate, otherwise it can eat you alive," said Richard Fiske, 79, who was a Marine bugler on the USS West Virginia when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Ken Garrison, president of the Portland, Ore., chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, says the civilians who survived Sept. 11 and the families of those who died may have a harder time coping than the military veterans of Pearl Harbor did.
"Because we were warriors and we were attacked by warriors," said Garrison, 80, who was a 20-year-old sailor aboard the USS Nevada on Dec. 7, 1941. "The terrorists, they killed a bunch of office workers, totally helpless civilians. You can't get any lower than that ... They'd have to stand on a ladder to kiss a snake."
Pearl Harbor veterans relied on their military training to quickly rebound. Most went on to fight equally horrific battles throughout the Pacific for the rest of World War II, eventually defeating the aggressor that had been so brutally victorious in the initial battle.
"We got them back. I mean, us personally, guys who had been hit at Pearl but made it through," said Garrison, who will remember his fallen Pearl Harbor comrades at a memorial service Dec. 7 in Vancouver, Wash. "And the United States will beat these terrorists too, but it will be the military. Those civilians will never get that chance."
One of the largest public ceremonies honoring Americans killed in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, will be held Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
The ceremony features laying of wreaths, an artillery memorial salute, taps and a rare flyover by B-52 aircraft.
The keynote speaker is Robin Higgins, a Veteran Affairs undersecretary who oversees the 120 national cemeteries in the United States. Higgins, who served for 20 years in the Marines, is the widow of Col. William R. Higgins, a Marine officer captured and killed by terrorists in Lebanon in 1988, said Gene Castagnetti, Punchbowl director.
Bus shuttles will run from the Blaisdell Center and the Alapai bus station to avoid traffic congestion at the cemetery. Round-trip tickets are $1.50 from Alapai and $2 from the Blaisdell, he said. Shuttles from both sites begin at 8 a.m.
The event, which begins at 10 a.m., will have chair seating for 3,000, with overflow seating on cement benches and standing room for another 2,000.
"We hope the community will come pay its respects to the men and women who have died for our freedom and democracy," said Castagnetti. "It's only through our remembrance ceremonies that you begin to pay the proper amount of respect and homage for their deeds."
Nearly 3,000 Americans died in the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks that have come to be known collectively as "Pearl Harbor." Six military sites on Oahu were attacked, more than 320 aircraft were destroyed or damaged and 21 vessels were sunk or damaged.