Other Views

By John Henry Felix

Saturday, May 24, 1997

the Natatorium

A shrine to keep memories alive
lies moribund itself

Memorial Day is an occasion to be thankful -- and a time to celebrate a lengthy struggle to save the Natatorium from the wrecker's ball.

For me, the Natatorium is more than a war memorial -- it is a place where I learned the rudiments of swimming -- the exhilaration of diving from the high tower and the pride of mastering the maneuvering of a surfboard in placid waters.

Freedom is hard won. The ultimate cost of freedom has been the lives of our loved ones. The ultimate expression of our desire for peace, is, ironically, through the waging of war. For we know there can be no true peace without freedom.

This sacrifice for freedom is meant to be eternally immortalized in the Natatorium, a creation of the elements of the earth, shaped by the hands of man. Memorials are symbols we erect as a community to remind us of the tremendous sacrifices we have made for peace, a peace without the threat of tyranny, that true peace which we, in our American way, preserve through democracy, our personal expression of freedom.

This memorial, this Natatorium, is a symbol. It has been under the threat of loss for decades. It has been permitted to deteriorate to the point where some believed it should be destroyed. But with the loss of such symbols, we also lose a part of our humanity. And that is why preserving the Natatorium, for all time, has such special significance to our lives. For the sake of a few dollars for every person on this island, we were in the past willing to lose a part of our soul.

But no more. Through a Herculean effort of the Friends of the Natatorium and the actions of our officials who are elected to serve the desires of the heart and soul of a people, this memorial shall be resurrected to its original glory to speak eloquently to its noble purpose.

Recently, we wept at the desecration of war memorials within our community. Such acts of cowardice should serve to remind us of the awesome power of these most public of structures, particularly those dedicated to our patriots and heroes. But consider for a moment the significance that this site was not defaced. In truth, this site up until this time has been neglected. Perpetrators of such cowardly acts selected those greatest and most cared for expressions of our collective good to use as targets for their hate and contempt of the very society which protects their freedom of expression. And you can be sure, that when they are found, these vandals will learn the cost of their grievous actions in very personal as well as very public ways.

But no more shall this memorial be left to crumble under the sun. This site too shall one day soon prove our dedication to the memory of those who served so that we may remain free to express ourselves. This memorial will rise from the ashes, a shining example of our commitment to the strength and beauty of such ideas as "freedom," "peace," and "democracy."

Yes, indeed, freedom is hard won. And how easy it is to forget that lesson. We become enmeshed in our day-to-day activities, busily hurrying between our harried personal and professional lives. There have been times in the history of our great country when the privilege of such mundane contrivances were seriously threatened. At those times, and some of us alive today were here then, the defenders of our right to self-determination stood face to face with those who would enslave us. They risked everything, so that you and I, our families and friends, could go about the business of achieving as much, or as little, as we desired.

The Natatorium is special among shrines. In design, it was ahead of its time. It combines a war memorial with a recreational site, creating a unique interactivity between the past and the present, between the new generation and the old. As children and their parents, professional swimmers and tourists come to use the pool, the only one of its kind in the world, they will become educated about the history contained herein.

The Natatorium was not designed to be a headstone, to be approached only by those related to the deceased which it honors. It was intended to be a living memorial -- not only an expression of appreciation from a grateful nation, but a reminder of the high cost of human life to preserve our cherished freedom -- the importance of sustaining the peace for future generations.

Let us this day pledge to never let this or any other war memorial deteriorate so disgracefully as this one has.

William Shakespeare put it best when he wrote: "Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear."

John Henry Felix is a member
of the Honolulu City Council.

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