Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Derby Day Pearl
Harbor idea bombs

TRY to imagine the reaction to an Aloha Week celebration that included a reenactment of Daniel Boone being chased out of Kentucky by Indians in 1773.

Or, how about including a tribute to the Kentucky Derby as part of Aloha Week festivities? Hawaii residents likely would think you had lost your mind if you suggested anything like that. Most Kentucky residents, I suspect, also wouldn't be amused.

So, you can imagine the reaction by many Kentuckians when they found out part of the annual Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville next month will include a reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The air show will take place during a six-hour fireworks program called "Thunder Over Louisville," an event that takes place yearly a few weeks before the Derby. A half million people line the Ohio River to see the show.

But this is the first year that Thunder organizers have decided to include a re-enactment of the Pearl Harbor attack, a 15-minute vintage aircraft battle dubbed "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

And the decision hasn't sat well with residents of Louisville.

"It's a cheap and crude attempt to expand the fireworks (show)," said Big Bob Hill, a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal. (In the interest of disclosure, I should point out that Big Bob and I have been known to tip a few beers together at annual columnist conventions and sing very bad karaoke).

Big Bob correctly pointed out in his column that the "Tora! Tora! Tora!" idea was stupid and tasteless. (Despite the magic of the Internet, I have been unable to actually read his column and he won't fax me a copy because that would entail actual physical exertion.)

Big Bob and other sensitive Kentuckians realize memories of the Pearl Harbor bombing are still vivid for many people who went through it or lost friends and relatives in the attack. Reenacting it is kind of like restaging the Oklahoma City bombing or the London blitzkrieg.

As Don Howell, Hawaii state chairman of the Pearl Harbor's Survivors Association, puts it: "Our people would rather not relive that day again."

Every Dec. 7, the survivors association does take part in ceremonies at Pearl Harbor.

"It's a very solemn occasion," he said. "It's not a spectacle, it's a memorial and we would not like to see that day recreated. It would be horrible."

The survivors association has 10,000 members nationally, including some in Kentucky.

I explained the organizers consider the reenactment a sort of tribute to both the Americans and Japanese who took part in the attack. Howell wouldn't buy it.

"I just don't see that it has anything to do with the Kentucky Derby, unless they are going to put rockets on horses," he said.

Kathy Billings, superintendent of the USS Arizona Memorial, also doesn't understand the staging of a reenactment of the bombing in connection with the Kentucky Derby.

A visit to the Arizona Memorial and the recently installed USS Missouri at Ford Island by war vets brings back a lot of memories, many of them extremely loud.

"They remember the sound of gunfire, the explosion of the Arizona," Billings said. "It's not one of those memories that you celebrate with fireworks."

Well, at least not in Hawaii. Sounds like the Kentucky Derby wants to become a horse race that will live in infamy.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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