Riding my bike to Subase Pearl Harbor or to Hickam AFB each day pretty much ensured that I’d never forget December 7th. My route took me right past the Arizona Memorial and along the way past twisted, burned and rusted shards of metal that reached upwards out of the water towards Heaven. It was hard to concentrate on the bike path or the random mongoose that darted out towards your front wheel. The significance of what went down on that day in 1941 always felt heavy when I rode by the signs of the attack. That twisted metal still present today was what brought America into the second world war way back in 1941.
Years after getting out of the Navy I saw one of my old COs on the History Channel talking about the salvage efforts that happened after the attack. He was a legend in the Navy Deep Sea Diving Community, and he’s still very much a legend today. The people I’ve met in the professional military aspect of my job here at Inflatable Boat Center remark about his moustache and his quiet. I think my best CO overall, Mark Helmcamp, he was no bull, he let people do their jobs and play to their strengths. Always professional, always on mission, shaping young sailors into frogmen, divers, and salvors that themselves became legends and heros. He was active in his role and understood the role his commands had in and around Pearl Harbor. I was glad to have served with him as our leader in all things deep sea and scary. His reverance of December 7th 1941 and May 21st 1944 instilled into our character a forged iron will and respect for the dangers we’d face as bastard sons of Neptune.
When the mobile dive and salvage group got tasked to do work on the Arizona with the National Parks Dept. (it’s their site) there was never any lack of volunteers to dive, run boats, or stand at attention in dress whites. Everyone knew the magnitude of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we lived and worked there, we saw the steel and smelled the oil. Taking part in the extra duties was considered an honor, a reward for a hard mission or task. Even though it was extra work we were all compelled by the sacrifice sailors and civilians made that day, December 7th, 1941. We competed to stand honor guard, or to work the site from a Zodiac, work boat or landing craft.
When the Reclaimer made way thru the different lochs of Pearl Harbor to load demo we’d pass by wrecks and give honors.163 men were killed and 396 men were wounded in West Loch on May 21 1944 making it the second worst incident in Pearl Harbor history. Death was everywhere around us in Pearl Harbor quietly watching for another opportunity to ply it’s trade. If we had to do something on Ford Island we’d see the effects of the bullets and bombs still there on display under the merciless sun. Almost everywhere you looked in the paradise of Pearl Harbor Hawaii you could see where people struggled in fear and died in smoke, fire, and water.
Being attached to the salvage group and reporting for duty on Hickam made me scratch my head at first, I was Navy and this was an Air Force Base. It became clear once I began my journey into becoming a salvor. We were there to clear the channel, to demo, dive, and salvage if anything like December 7th ever happened again. We were there to get our Navy back on it’s feet and underway, to conduct rescue missions, to catch or kill the enemy, and so much more.
December 7th 1941 was a hard lesson for Americans and one we won’t likly forget anytime soon. For most of America it’s a day of light traffic and days off, for myself and other “Neptune’s Bastards” it’s a solemn promise to serve the living and remember the fallen. While I served on more than a few “junk boats” the Reclaimer and her relationship to Pearl Harbor has always made me feel something extra on December 7th. Today I think about the resilience of the country, it’s people, and it’s sailors while remembering I’m standing in the shadows of giants. Iron willed American sailors and salvors who stood up to some pretty bad situations while some 2,403 of their brethran fell.
This December 7th, 2023 we also remember our dear friend Gary Durnam. Gary worked at Zodiac for 36 years shaping and growing the company here in the US. He was easy to talk to, knew how to kick air into a boat, and a friend to everyone he met.
While you’re enjoying a day off and the lighter traffic on the roadways take a moment to reflect what price the country paid for it.
If you knew Gary from Zodiac take a moment and remember him as he was.
Some of the staff at Zodiac US will be unavailable for the time being as the news about Gary is just now coming out, on their day off, this December 7th 2023.