By Rick Fromm
By Rick Fromm

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve written about this subject before (although this is not a copy), but that was a decade or two ago and I’m sure most have forgotten about it by now or never read it in the first place. So be it. At any rate, the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, remains one of the most pivotal moments in American history, and remembering the 2,000-plus brave souls who gave their lives that day defending our freedom must never be forgotten (especially on Memorial Day). I have a strong, personal bond with Pearl Harbor and it remains with me each and every day. It always will. The following, is my story:


W

e lived at the entrance to Pearl Harbor – the most famous shipyard in the world – not more than 60 yards from the ocean. My dad, LCDR George Fromm, had been transferred to Barbers Point Naval Air Station on the island of Oahu in the new state of Hawaii. It was truly paradise and a magical three years in my life.

The housing provided to military personnel stationed on Oahu in 1963 was perfect. Since the weather in Hawaii is pretty-much ideal every single day – not too hot and not too cold – no air-conditioning was required and the need for additional heat was a rare event indeed. Our ranch-style home was bright, airy and cheerful.

We could gaze out our sliding glass doors to the lanai (a patio basically) and see the iconic Diamond Head volcano (dormant) in the distance near Honolulu. Between that historic landmark and our house was the Pacific Ocean to the right and the island of Oahu to the left. It was like something out of a movie, and we never grew tired of it. Who would?

As the ocean narrowed into a channel that led to Pearl Harbor, massive warships would pass by with great regularity. It was a common site for us to see colossal aircraft carriers enter the channel with the sailors dressed in crisp, clean white uniforms as they stood at attention along the railing. Talk about impressive.

While the time spent as a Hawaiian was special, the thing that wasn’t so cool was the fact it took me so long to get to and from school. My mom would shake me awake at 5:15 a.m., usually have a soft-boiled egg and toast ready, and by 5:45 I was on my way.

“My way” meant a 10-minute bike ride to a pier on an inlet adjacent to Pearl Harbor, a boat ride across the Harbor and then transferring buses two times before arriving at school by 8:30. Coming home after school was the same routine in reverse. Talk about a grind. I hated it.

But the one thing I didn’t hate was the ride across Pearl Harbor on a covered U.S. Navy launch with two young sailors at the helm. In the early light of dawn, that trip was magical, and I can still remember it in detail.

After pulling away from the small wooden pier, we’d head out across the waters of Pearl Harbor and arrive at our destination point some 30 minutes or so later. It could be rather chilly riding on the waters of the Pacific Ocean at that time of day, but it had to be done. What choice did I have?

The one moment in the entire trek that really stands out in my mind was when the launch cruised past Ford Island in the middle of the Harbor. Ford Island was the location of “Battleship Row” on that fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Several battleships were docked there that beautiful Sunday morning when the Japanese, with 353 fighter planes, bombers and torpedo planes surprised the entire South Pacific fleet, inflicting incredible damage on countless warships, aircraft and thousands of servicemen and women.

As any good American knows, Battleship Row is where the USS Arizona was tied up and her fate is one of the most well-documented tragedies in U.S. history. When a perfectly placed Japanese bomb pierced the Arizona’s deck and detonated in a powder magazine, the ship exploded violently and essentially cracked in half before sinking quickly.

A total of 1,177 sailors were killed on the Arizona and 1,102 of them remain entombed inside her hulls. A moving and beautiful memorial now straddles the mighty ship and as we passed by – slowly – each morning and afternoon, the sailors on the launch came to attention and we were told to keep our mouths shut until we’d gone past the watery grave of so many brave souls.

Even though I experienced it over 1,000 times, I was always moved to near tears every time we sailed by the old girl – but it was especially riveting by dawn’s early light. I would try to imagine what those men were thinking when hundreds of Japanese fighters came out of the clouds and into full view. How frightened they must have been when the bombs and torpedoes started finding their mark and the sailors were forced to realize “it was not a drill.”

My imagination can be rather vivid at times, but I swear I could hear sailors’ voices as we made our way past the monument. Call me crazy, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. No question it’s a mystical place. If you’ve never been to the memorial, put it on your bucket list and prepare to get emotional.

That’s why on Memorial Day my mind goes back to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona. Rest in peace, good sailors, and thanks for everything. I hope there’s a special place in heaven for all of you.