Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Most Famous Person

During the time the Tutuila was visiting Pearl Harbor, there occurred a major local holiday. I had not previously known of Kamehameha Day; which honors Kamehameha I, the former unifier (in 1810) and King of the Hawaiian Islands; a revered figure in Hawaiian culture, past and present.

All of Honolulu, it seemed, had shut down for Kamehameha Day, and huge crowds gathered along King Street and beyond for the annual parade. There were floats, from all parts of the island group, — all made of local flowers, sort of like a Polynesian Rose Bowl parade. Along with the floats were open cars with local celebrities riding high and waving, marchers from local societies, high school marching bands, and others (in other words, all of the elements of a major holiday parade anywhere). The parade elements mustered and marched, seemingly endlessly, from the starting point, past the Iolani Palace; former royal residence of Hawaii’s historical rulers, and off into the distance. It was directly in front of the palace that our guide Diane had recommended as the best place to view the festivities, and so here, at the edge of the roadway, we stood.

We soon discovered that behind us in the palace, on the Governor’s balcony — along with the governor, and other VIPs — was a national celebrity. Visiting (and actually living on the island for a brief time), was Jacqueline Kennedy, and her children, eight-year-old Caroline and five-year-old “John John”.

I will admit, it was a thrill to actually see them in person, viewing the events from their vantage, two stories up and perhaps 50 yards behind where we stood in the crush at curbside.

The parade, eventually, came to an end, and as my friends Robert and Jake, and I were starting to move on, a ripple of excitement passed through the crowd. The rumor was that Mrs. Kennedy and the children would be leaving the palace grounds in a limo; passing through a gate located on the cross street just ahead of us. We didn’t know of this was true, but we were going in that direction anyway, so we joined the gathering throng outside the gate.

By the time we actually got there we were well back from the gate, and tall as I am not, I couldn’t see over most of those in front of me. But I got an idea. Disregarding how far back I was, I positioned myself in the center of the drive, and waited. When the time came, the first persons out of the gate were, of course, swarms of security, pushing people off of the drive itself and out of the limo’s intended path. As the crowds parted, or were pushed back, I held my ground as others backed up.  Finally, when directly confronted by an officer, I backed up until he was satisfied with my position – at the edge of the drive, front row.

As the limo slowly moved past I was close enough (although I did not) to touch the car as I bent and peered through the window at who, at the time, was perhaps the most famous woman and certainly the most sympathetic and revered person in the country.

In that moment, my previous thrill at actually seeing them was repeated and multiplied as I gaped and gawked like everyone else, secretly proud of the maneuver which had provided me with such an extraordinary view. My two friends, who had moved at the first instruction to do so, barely got a look at the car.

Honolulu and Waikiki

On liberty from the Tutuila, my friends and I mostly passed on the questionable pleasures of Honolulu’s traditional Navy haunts — Chinatown and the infamous Hotel Street. Rather, we spent most of our time in the Hawaii most known at the time to tourists; Waikiki Beach and its surroundings.

A portion of land, between Kalakaua Avenue and the ocean — within the parameters of Waikiki Beach — was owned by the U.S. Army. And so the Fort Derussey portion of Waikiki was limited to military personnel and guests. This was good for everyone, as beach and recreational facilities at Fort Derussey were more than adequate, and well located on the famous expanse of beach, with Diamond Head looming in the background.

We were welcome there, and could settle in to a prime spot without having to impose on the minimal hospitality of the big hotels. And the hotels, in turn, didn’t have to put up with us tromping through and trying to take up space intended for paying guests. At the water’s edge however, the sandy strip of beach itself was public land, so we weren’t restricted from walking the beach to the hotels, where girls might be.

Not surprisingly, we had a pretty good time. When not on the beach we walked Waikiki’s main street, Kalakaua Avenue, which parallels the ocean. On one side were the famous beachfront hotels, and on the other were many tourist attractions. We visited the International Marketplace; really just a mall — but an exotic one, and in a prime location. We even entered the famous nightclub Duke Kahanamoku’s, and actually saw Don Ho (Tiny Bubbles) on stage before we were turned around, shown the door, and encouraged to use it.

We weren’t misbehaving; we were just a small group of enlisted sailors, in uniform. And in Waikiki’s upper social strata, and tourist environment, we were considered somewhat déclassé. So we moved on. That was OK; there was plenty of fun to be had, and we didn’t really want to spend our time sitting in a fancy nightclub anyway.

A Tour of Oahu

While I was attending Engineman School at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, the fellow who slept above me in the double bunks of our barracks was named Roger; a nice, handsome young man, with a laid-back tropic-island personality. Roger was, in fact, from Hawaii; a resident of the city of Kaneohe, on Oahu’s Northeast coast.

While not particularly close friends, we got along well enough, and by the time we graduated and went our separate ways Roger had told me, and some others, that if our service ever took us to Pearl Harbor that we should contact his mother, and that she would show us the sites.

So when the Tutuila finally lumbered into Pearl Harbor, and liberty commenced, I called Roger’s mother. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it sure wasn’t the delight I heard in her voice to be talking to a friend of her far distant son. If we would come to Kaneohe, she quickly told me, on our next free day, she would take us around the island and indeed show us the sites.

So on a decided upon day, my shipboard friends Robert, and Jake, and I boarded a bus to take us over the Pali to Kaneohe, where Roger’s mother, a wonderful lady named Diane, awaited our arrival.

She had set aside the entire day to give us a very thorough tour of the island of Oahu, not as tourists, but from an islander’s perspective. From Kaneohe, we traced Oahu’s North Shore, viewing places whose names were known to me through the pop music of my high school years; Sunset Beach, Waimea, and the spot of the Banzai Pipeline.

We turned inland and drove through miles of pineapple fields (where it was understandably forbidden to stop and take a sample). From a distance, we saw Schofield Barracks, also known to me from history, and from the book “From Here to Eternity”.

Driving to the south shore, and Honolulu, we visited the National Cemetery, within the crater of an extinct volcano (Punch Bowl). There we stopped at the simple grave of famous World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. Further east we rounded Diamond Head, and stopped to see the “Blow Hole” near the extinct crater of Koko Head.

We visited a relatively small beach at an eastern shore spot known as Hanuama Bay, formed by an extinct crater whose eastern half has been eroded away by the sea. This place seemed to us to be paradise itself. Mostly unknown to tourists, at the time, it was a favorite of local islanders, and the backdrop for parts of Elvis’s movie “Blue Hawaii”.

An unhurried drive up the eastern shoreline then took us back to Kaneohe, and the end of one of the best days I have ever had. Thanks Diane, and Roger.

 

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Despite the long days crossing the empty, gently heaving Pacific Ocean, we did eventually steam past Diamond Head and Waikiki, and entered the channel leading to the naval base at Pearl Harbor. As we rounded Holokahiki Point, and the western end of Hickam Air Force Base — which had been fixed in my childhood memory by the old World War II movies as Hickam Field — we steamed into Pearl Harbor itself and tied up to a pier in the Southeast Loch.

This was all very exciting; for I knew my history. In addition to the events of the “Day of Infamy” the entire Pacific war had thereafter been staged and commanded from this place and so it was, for me, quite a thrill to actually be there.

Aside from liberty in Honolulu, and beyond, one thing we made sure to do was take the tourist launch to the USS Arizona Memorial; the sobering, and hauntingly beautiful monument which straddles the sunken battleship, whose main deck lies just inches below the surface of the harbor’s crystal waters. There we gazed in awe at the once mighty vessel – in its day, the iconic symbol of US naval power — and we read, in solemn silence, the names etched into the monument’s far wall. Names of the sailors entombed in the sunken hull below.

History, and the ghosts of past events are still strong in this place.

Panama City and the Pacific Ocean

After passage through the Panama Canal, we stopped for two full days in Panama City, Panama. The city was tropical, like the islands of the Caribbean, but also large and crowded, and very urban; with both affluent areas, and teeming slums. Those entertainments which we would seek while ashore on our brief visit focused squarely between the two.

One memory, which has stayed with me quite clearly, is of a downtown intersection patrolled by police in starched green uniforms, carrying submachine guns. This alone informed us that our status as US Navy personnel notwithstanding, we were in fact visiting a police state, and that we would be wise to behave accordingly.

We visited bars, of course, and roamed the streets, sightseeing and experiencing the exotic locale. All in all, if it wasn’t a good time, it was an interesting one. But soon enough, we were back aboard, departing for places further to the west. Leaving the Port of Balboa, where the Tutuila had docked, we steamed through the Gulf of Panama and on into what author Herman Wouk described as the “humid blue void” of the Pacific Ocean.

The voyage from Panama to Hawaii — and later, the somewhat longer leg from Hawaii to Subic Bay in the Philippines — was a bit tedious. The Tutuila’s top speed, if she strained a bit, was 11 Knots (roughly 10 MPH), a speed we didn’t come close to as we crossed the vast ocean.

Additionally, we sometimes slowed or paused for drills, including man overboard drills; during which the ship stopped dead in the water as the complete event was simulated. The entire ship’s company would be called to muster and counted, while the small boat crew launched, and practiced a rescue several hundred yards astern.

When we eventually reached our destination we were almost surprised to — at last — see land.