In a harbor called Pearl two grand ships guard the past

December 4, 2016
USS Missouri stands guard with USS Arizona Image: JTB-GTS LLC

USS Missouri stands guard with USS Arizona

The keel of BB-39 was laid down in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 16, 1914, four months before the beginning of what we now refer to as World War I and more than three years before the United States would at last enter that “Great War” on April 6, 1917.

Ironic by today’s conditions, the fuel oil required for her boilers was in too short of supply at the time to allow her to join her sister ships serving with the British Grand Fleet who still used the more plentiful coal to power their mighty Dreadnoughts into battle. Even though she was the newest and mightiest of the fleet, she would be confined stateside throughout the war. She was in all actuality, ahead of her time.

Her post war service included the usual training exercises, playing host to a vacationing President Herbert Hoover, and providing assistance following the Long Beach earthquake in March of 1933. She pulled many a duty call and she played her every part as required by the fleet, yet her twelve 14 inch guns would never fire a shot in combat. Never.

Eleven months and a day before the United States would be thrust into the Second World War; the keel of BB-63 was laid down at that same Naval Yard on January 6th 1941.

Vice President Harry S. Truman’s daughter Margaret would christen her three years later on January 29th, 1944 and by Christmas Eve of that year she would find herself moored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii ready to avenge the attack of three Decembers past.

And avenge she would. She provided screening for the first carrier launched attacks on the Japanese homeland since Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s famous raid in April of 1942, went on to participate in the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa and closed out her wartime service anchored in Tokyo Bay serving as host to the official surrender ceremonies between the Empire of Japan and the victorious Allied forces.

One started as just one in a long line, the other, literally the last of the line. Between them they displaced over 75,000 tons of steel, lined up bow to stern they jointly stretched over quarter mile in length, and they served as quarters to a combined compliment of almost 5,000 officers and men.

While BB-39 and BB-63 are their official Navy registrations the rest of the world knows them as the USS Arizona and the USS “Mighty Mo” Missouri.

Two ships, born of two vastly different times; yet now forever joined in time as a single reminder to that period in history bookended by the dates December 7th, 1941 and September 2, 1945.

75 years ago this December 7th, at approximately 0755 local time, the crew of the Arizona went to general quarters in response to an air raid alarm on ship. By 0810 a bomb hit had led to her forward magazines exploding. An explosion with such force that the concussion put out fires on the USS Vestal moored alongside and sparing her the Arizona’s fate. The final toll would be 1,177 men, 78 percent of her total crew that day, and almost half of the over 2400 total lost in the attack..

In a span of less than fifteen minutes, almost 1200 souls were ripped away from us in the most violent of ways and a reluctant America found herself hurled into the worst conflagration the world has ever known.

Within a not very many years in the future, the last breath of the last survivor of that day will be breathed; ending for eternity our mortal connection back to that time. And with each year forward hence, the risk of that time fading from our collective national memory will undoubtedly grow.

Thankfully, in a harbor called Pearl, two great ships stand watch. Silent sentinels of both tragedy and majesty, they remain on eternal patrol that we never forget. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the December 4th, 2016 print edition of the Joplin Globe.  Unfortunately a printing error released the column stating this was the 70th anniversary of the December 7th, attack and not the correct 75th.  A correction has been made to the Globe website but unfortunately, print is forever, my apologies for any confusion.

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