I visited Pearl Harbor last week, and I have been thinking about it since. In fact I have been thinking about it in combination with two other sacred places I have visited over the last several years—the American Cemetery in Cambridge, England and the American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia. It felt important to me to see these places. Even more, it felt like a responsibility.
In England and in Tunisia, I went with my daughter and wife on July Fourth, 2005 and 2010 respectively.
At each place there is a kind of immediacy that can easily escape me when I reflect on the sacrifices the generation that fought and won the Second World War made. In Cambridge, this feeling hit me when I first entered the small chapel at the cemetery where on the ceiling is a mosaic that represents planes flying across a blue sky. It also hit me when I visited the Eagle Pub near Corpus Christi College where many American Pilots and Crew stood on chairs and wrote their names, and often their flight group, on the ceiling.
In Tunisia, the feeling was most poignant when my daughter asked me why there were some markers that had no name and others where more than one person had been interred. I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, but I do remember stumbling through my response.
At the USS Arizona Memorial, the oil that still seeps from the wreck below the surface struck me. Somehow its rainbow sheen splotched on the surface of the harbor and drifting to sea made December 7, 1941 feel like more of a living tragedy than the famous photographs of its last horrific minute on the surface ever could.
Throughout history and literature is the demand that we remember those who have sacrificed everything for others. It is the least we can do.