I remember being stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor and seeing first hand shards of twisted steel reaching for the heavens as clear as it was yesterday. It was 1989 and I was a young second class petty officer who dreamt of surfing the big waves and sailing over the horizon as an impetus to reenlisting for another 6 years. As an active duty sailor I had unfettered access to the many lochs that make up what we call Pearl Harbor. The scars of that unprovoked attack on US soil were still apparent everywhere I looked even then all those years later.
To say it was humbling would be an understatement, even where I was assigned barracks and where I ate my meals told the tales and housed the spirits of those who were wounded or lost their lives. Learning that where you slept and ate were once casualty centers and morgues covered in blood and stained with tears took it’s toll on sailors even then. When people ask me why I take off my cover/hat while on the mess decks or in a restaurant it’s to respect and honor the fallen. It was in these same such areas that were pressed into service during times of war and turmoil and many had died in those locations.
My barracks mate Stan and I were housed above the old morgue together in the “haunted side” of the facility. We were pretty much always left alone while we berthed there because the other service members and personnel steered clear from it’s ponderous past thinking it was full of ghosts.
Loading demolition gear aboard one of the many dive and salvage boats I was stationed on brought into focus even more twisted steel rusting in the salt. Sweating under the merciless sun loading tons of TNT, Dynamite and various High Explosives and seeing the death that surrounded us from the past would always make us pause to think to ourselves just how terrible it was for those who came and fought before us. Sure, we selfishly thought about our upcoming missions, and maybe even let a slight bit of fear creep in for a second, but it fell away like rain drops as we bolstered ourselves to be strong like our brother sailors from WW2.
I was lucky to have served after the second war to end all wars, I was lucky to have been under the command of such Naval luminaries as my old CO Mr. Helmcamp on the USS Reclaimer who would later lead the US Navy Dive School and many other commands. Learning from leaders in the junk boat community and special forces family helped to shape me into the man I am today, a salty dog whose been in a boat once or twice. Friends from the S.E.A.L. Teams, junk boats, E.O.D., Navy Divers, Shellbacks, SBU and Neptune’s Bastards all whom I call brothers remember what December 7th means to us today. Sitting in an inflatable boat in the pitch black on a big lonely ocean will make you believe in yourself, your Zodiac and God if you don’t already. To have experienced the tragedy of Pearl harbor all those years later and operate on some of the best Zodiac inflatable boats whilst trying to live up to the legacy of those who paid the ultimate price makes me respect the iron willed men who salvaged and refloated the fleet.
Zodiacs were clearing ordnance, rescuing lives, and getting our Navy back on it’s feet decades before I was even born. To those who served IBC salutes you and carries on the tradition of “Can Do” when facing insurmountable odds and danger.
On this day December 7th we will never forget.