Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Date in Infamy, A personal perspective..

"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."..Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States.

Being a history buff that I am and always wanting to visit such places as I have only read about or imagined seeing, my trip to Hawaii would not have been complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor. Actually, not honestly knowing what sights one could see on the island of O'ahu, the visit to Pearl would have made my vacation perfect, regardless.

Many people I have known, or rather those who feel they know me, can't understand the way my old brain works when I visit such places as Pearl Harbor, the USS Lexington, USS North Carolina, the USS Missouri and other magnificent places.

I have a wee bit of a problem. I can't just stand there and look at these vessels and admire their construction. I can't just look at them and say, "Wow! Thats a heck of a boat!" When I see them, I can imagine hearing their guns erupt in massive, thunderous clouds of smoke, sending their projectiles off into the horizon to destroy enemy forces.

I can hear the sounds of dive bombers making attempts to destroy such incredible ships. The crews running to do the job they were trained to do. Sounds of explosions all around and the scream of the ships alarms calling all aboard to battle stations.

To me, they are not just museum pieces, no longer alive thus fading from memory. These ships echo the thousands of people who lived, worked, fought and died on board. The tears that were shed when a friend or buddy lost his life, or shed once the battle was over, then realizing how close they came to losing their own life to an enemy they may not have even seen.

Of all the places I have traveled to in my life, I think that Pearl Harbor will always remain vivid in my mind. Tuesday, November 22, 2011, a date which will live on in my memory forever. The day that I would step on the shores of Pearl Harbor or its proper Hawaiian name, Pu'uloa.

Not having a car, and seeing the Hawaiian traffic firsthand, now glad I didn't, I took a tour bus out to Pearl. I remember the feeling I had as I watched the landscape change, see the road signs directing us to our destination. I can remember the bus coming over a small hill which obscured the harbor at first, then revealing it in its modern splendor. Like a child at Christmas time, anticipating his first visit to Santa's lap, I think I can recall the thoughts inside my mind when I saw the place for the first time.."Oh my god, Pearl Harbor!"

Now, I suppose, to save face, the following should be described as happening to someone else. Maybe the person who sat beside me in the auditorium, letting the excitement of the presentation get the best of their emotions. The Pearl Harbor presentation presented by the US Parks Service, told of the events which led up to the attack on December 7th. Even shown the explosion which ripped the USS Arizona in two that morning. The person setting beside me found it extremely hard to choke back tears. The poor fellow really fought hard not to embarrass himself in front of dozens of tourist. Who am I kidding? That person was me! Yea, I admit it and am proud of it. I found that, if you visit this place and your emotions are not stirred deeply, then, in my opinion, you aren't human nor an American!

The bus arrived at Pearl Harbor rather early, in fact, the memorial wasn't even open yet so I had ample time to walk the grounds and view the displays and museums. I stood near the shore and peered across the harbor at the Arizona Memorial. I honestly could not believe that I was here! Me, the Keeper, at Pearl Harbor! The place where the United States involvement in World War II began!

Now, keep in mind, the harbor has very few ships moored in it. A few supply ships, a battleship looming in the distance, as if keeping humble watch over the Arizona and her brave crew. A battleship I would later visit and recognize as another historical vessel which put an end to the war with Japan, the USS Missouri.

An unknown aircraft carrier sat idle as well. Her registry number unknown to me but read "8", a registry given to the USS Hornet, the one which Colonel Doolittle led the B-25 raid on Japan on April 18th 1942. But was sadly sunk by Japanese forces at the battle of Santa Cruz in 1942. A new carrier CV-12, was built and renamed "Hornet" to carry on the fallen carriers name. I have yet to identify the mysterious "8", moored at Pearl Harbor.

It was quiet that Tuesday, except for the ramblings of the tourist and a faint sound of big band music, circa 1941 playing on the overhead speakers. But I stood there, taking in the view and allowing my mind to drift back nearly 70 years. Back to that fateful day in December when thought the Japanese airplanes flew through Kolekole pass, which could be seen in the morning fog from where I stood. But rather following the large O'ahu mountains to their harbor targets.

I let my mind enjoy itself and do what it does so well...imagine. Drifting off in complete happiness as back in my mind, I began hearing the sounds of airplanes growing nearer. The sound of "Morning Colors" being played onboard the battleships, such as was being played on the USS Nevada.

I could see the many magnificent battleships, all perfectly in a row, the pride of the United States Navy. Smaller vessels cruising the harbor. A gorgeous Sunday morning, a morning that would soon be filled with the sounds of bombs exploding, screams of agony and machine gun fire all across the harbor.

I can't honestly describe how I truly felt that day, I was walking where many people may have died. I love history and the concept of actually being some place that I have only read about or seen on TV is quite incredible to me.

I walked the park compound, visiting the museums, reading the names of those lost on that day, according to the ship they were on. The USS Bowfin, a submarine which was launched December 7th 1942, nicknamed, "The Pearl Harbor Avenger", which totaled 43 Japanese ship kills during the war. A payback for the attack. Also moored at Pearl Harbor.

Many pieces of military equipment were situated along the grounds. Japanese manned torpedoes, which I had no ideal such were ever constructed, anti-aircraft batteries, conning towers and many plaques dedicated the people who gave their lives that day, many, never even knowing who, what or why they were even attacked.

It soon came time to board the little navy operated tour boat which took thousands of tourist a week to the Arizona Memorial. I made sure that I got a decent seat near the railing. I wanted the view of the Memorial to be as spectacular as I knew it would be.

The water was calm that morning as we crossed the harbor towards the Arizona. Again, my little mind drifted off where it loves to be, total imagination! Back, again, 70 years previous to December 7th, 1941. I am here! I am in Pearl Harbor! I could imagine the Japanese planes as they made pass after pass over the sleeping US fleet. Scraff after scraff, riddling the harbor and ships with machine gun fire. I was here! On the very water (yea I know, it wasn't the same water, but you know what I mean). I looked down as the waves came from underneath the tour boat. Raising my eyes upward, imagining the bullets as they covered the harbor. The sounds of the planes as they flew overhead. The whistle of the torpedo bombs now being laid down with intent on destroying the fleet as rest. Thousand pounders now being dropped and exploding on the decks of the vessels.

Moored peacefully in Pearl that morning, were the crews of the USS West Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Vestal, Pennsylvania, Nevada, California and USS Utah, along with many other ships including heavy and light cruisers, destroyers and others listed in different capacities.

Crews who were awaken by a thunderous roar as Japanese plans began their onslaught against the US Navy. In the back of my mind, I could see them sitting there in the morning water. To this day, the mooring slabs are still intact for the West Virginia, Tennessee, Vestal and Nevada. Painted white with their respective ships and registry numbers proudly displayed.

The tour boat slowly pulled up next to the docking rail for the USS Arizona Memorial. I was here! Actually about to step on board one of the most magnificent and emotional war memorials in US history.

So many times in my life I have seen this place, either in a book or some TV show and always wished I could visit. And now I did! Now I am here! Now, I am able to look slightly beneath the water and not only see the weathered remains of a once proud battleship, but understand her purpose and what she still holds dear inside her battered hull to this day...Her crew!

As the boat came to a complete stop and the tourist, myself included, began to step onboard the memorial, I glanced across the harbor one more time. Again, here I stood, mere feet from the infamous battleship. Here in this very spot, nearly 70 years ago, an explosion ripped through the mighty ship, blowing it in two. Here in the very waters that now seem so incredibly peaceful, men screamed, fought, died AND survived the attack by the Japanese navy. In this very spot, young men gave their lives to an enemy they never even knew.

I glanced up at the name on the memorial, USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL. I couldn't believe I was actually here!! I felt tears once again began welling up in my eyes.

Now, some have mentioned how they have enjoyed my ramblings over the years. Some, bold as they may be, have stated that I have a way of writing stories that they feel as if they were there. But, I find myself at a loss for words to further describe what I saw or how I felt as I stepped inside the marble shine. Yes, I admit, my emotions were running high. It was a solemn place, if that is proper english. The Arizona was not just a relic that reflected the beginning of World War II. It was not a place for tourist to gather and gawk at..a rusting hulk. What it was to me, was not only a visible reminder of over 1,100 men who perished on that fateful day, onboard the USS Arizona but the 2,400 plus who lost their lives, both military and civilian.

As I walked onboard the memorial, I slowly made my way towards the open observation deck. If that is what it is called, or the open side walls of the memorial. I now stood where I only dreamed of standing. I am here! On the very platform where dozens of Pearl Harbor survivors have stood. But their numbers now amounting to only a very slim few.

I leaned against the railing, after patiently waiting for other visitors to take photos and pay solemn respects to the ship. I remember vividly, my first thought, "the Arizona!!" Lying below me are over 1,100 men who lost their lives on December 7th 1941. Still entombed inside the very ship that they died on. Many lives instantly that day, scared out of their minds from the sounds of general quarters and battle stations. Dazed and confused, many just awoken out of a sound sleep, never knowing what was going on, possibly thinking it still a drill put on by the captain.

Logic tells me that many may have been vaporized, cremated the instant the bomb detonated inside the powder magazine that morning. Igniting gun powder and fuel stores alike, instantaneously erupting in a massive explosion which ripped the Arizona in two. But in my mind, and I will always choose to feel this way, the crew of the Arizona, all 1,100 of them, still lay peacefully on the sunken decks of this proud ship. Still dressed as they were on the day of the attack. Now, eternally at peace.

Over the last 70 years, survivors of the attack, crewmates of those fallen, were allowed to be cremated and their ashes interred inside the Arizona, when their normal life ended. They, the survivors, were allowed to rejoin their crewmates in death. I can't help but envision something akin to the ending of the movie "Titantic", after the elder Rose passes away at the end. The ship glows in her splendor as Rose rejoins those she knew who perished. My mind see's those whom survived, now passed away, ashes interred inside the sunken ship...their crewmates standing by, welcoming them back, the faint sound of a Glen Miller song being played overhead.

I walked to the remembrance hall. so many names I could not even begin to read or count. So many pairs of brothers who were aboard this ship, eternally lost to war. The parks service Ranger answering questions, with the sound of the Japanese language being spoken in the background. I couldn't help but wonder, if they were there to honor war and those fallen or to gloat for such a surprise and victorious attack. Either way, the past is the past and those who perished, on both sides, should be honored and remembered. They gave their lives for what they believed.

I made my way back to the side of the memorial, the first place I stood when I first came aboard. I did what I always swore I would do if I ever visited this place. I was never in any branch of the military, but I would not allow that to stop what I wanted to do. I stood at attention and saluted the ship and crew of the USS Arizona. The same way I stood at the Pacific War Memorial, glancing down at the list of the fallen sailors from the USS West Virginia, my home state ship and saluted them. It is the very least I could do for so many valiant men.

It is roughly estimated that over 418,000 US citizens died during World War II, both Pacific and European theaters. Our remembrance should not only be for those who died on December 7th, 1941, but also for the other 416,000 who gave their lives for our freedom.

Unfortunately, time was not freely given to allow visitors to spend as much as they would like on the Arizona. I suppose, to accommodate the thousands of visitors, a set time limit had to be enacted. I crossed to the forward view section of the memorial. Peering at the balloon buoy out in the water, recognizing it as the forward bow of the Arizona, my eyes peered close by, almost directly in front of the memorial itself. I watched as quarter size globs of oil..70 years old, broke the surface of the harbor and slowly began to disperse. It is said that, the Arizona leaks between 2 and 9 quarts of oil per day. I think I can almost believe that estimate, because I seen numerous droplets of oil coming to the surface of the water. My first thought..the Arizona still weeps for her crew!

The Arizona still weeps!!

As we were exiting the memorial, I turned once again, looking up the harbor, my mind racing, dreaming, imagining. The sounds I could hear, the bombs exploding, the sights of bodies lying in the water, and those trying to swim to the shore, escaping the hell that was unleashed upon them by the Japanese navy. Above the mooring pile for the USS West Virginia, a magnificent site, the USS Missouri, keeping silent vigil over her fallen sister ship. Here, in this one harbor that time has not forgotten, two mighty ships, the Arizona and Missouri, a representation of the beginning and end of World War II. Fitting, to say the least!

Here you have it. Pearl Harbor, or at least through my eyes. I have worked on it for days, but never really wanting to post it until December 7th. A tribute, not only to those who still lie aboard the Arizona, but to the thousands of other people who lost their lives that day and the years to follow.

Once I got aboard the tour boat that took us back to the mainland, I never turned my head to look back at the memorial. Never, until now, did I wonder why I didn't. Normally, I would turn, as if catching one last glance at something I find spectacular, as if knowing I will never see it again. But tonight, while putting the finishing touches on this latest blog entry, an entry I know only 2 or 3 will read, I think my reason was something else.

A realization!

We can never go back to Pearl. We can never change history! It is just that, a part of our past. As Admiral Yamamoto was quoted as saying shortly after the attack.."I fear we have only awoken a sleeping giant and filled him with resolve..", and indeed, America fought back with a vengeance and won. I never turned to take one last look at the Arizona, because to me, she will never be forgotten! Her crew will forever remain lying at rest inside her hull, still dressed as they were on December 7th. They will continue to welcome the last survivors aboard, as they fall asleep in this life, to serve in peace with their fallen comrades for all eternity.

We, America, must always be ready! Always be posed for war. Ready to protect our nation from any enemy, foreign or domestic which threatens our way of life., our freedom and our resolve.

I am reminded of President Abraham Lincolns, Gettysburg Address, something which is fitting here, at Pearl Harbor, long forgotten, but should never be. Teachers teach this to your students, lest we ever forget the sacrifice made by so many, a speech which simply reads...

" we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

We must never forget!

To me, this tribute, or personal perspective, would not be complete without mentioning another gallant ship and her brave crew. One ship still remains sunk at Pearl Harbor with 58 men and one baby girl aboard.

The USS Utah, BB-31/AG-16, a Florida Class Battleship, was designated as a training vessel in 1941. She, as well as other ships in the harbor were attacked and sunk by the Japanese navy.

Utah is listed as "The Forgotten Ship", reason being, she lies on the side of Ford Island where the only access to the memorial is through a naval residential area, thus off limits to non-military personnel and tourist. I heard, during my visit to Pearl Harbor, that the navy was working on a way which would keep privacy safe for their residential area and also allow visitors to the Utah. I think I would like to return when that visit is made possible.

The Utah sank well with-in 30 minutes of the attack, taking 58 sailors with her to the bottom of the harbor. But the sailors were not the only ones who went down with the Utah that day. The cremated remains of a 2 day old baby girl, Nancy Lynne Wagner, the daughter of Chief Yeoman Albert Thomas Dewitt Wagner.

Chief Yeoman Wagner's daughter was brought on board for a ceremony at sea. A tradition of the Wagners. He was awaiting the chaplain to come aboard the USS Utah on December 8th, to perform the burial at sea.

Chief Yeoman Wagner survived the attack that day, but was unable to recover his daughters urn, which he stored in his locker on the Utah.

The childs surviving twin sister, Mary Dianne Wagner Kreigh, was quoted once as saying, "

In retrospect, "I don't think there is a better tribute to my twin sister than to have all those wonderful and brave men guarding her,"

"It would have been wonderful if she had lived, but since she did not, I feel nothing but pride and pleasure that she is in such magnificent company. I could have not asked for anything better than for her to be tenderly, carefully looked after by America's finest."

No, dear ship, you will in no way ever be forgotten!

The harbor holds many souls. Cherishes them and keeps them safe with-in her watery bosom. They are part of her and will always remain a part of her as long as we remember.

I saluted all who perished that day. It was the least I could do.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mahalo Oahu Aloha

Seeing how I am now getting to be an expert on "stupid things to do, that I always wanted to but now do it and blame it on middle age crazy", I decided not to stay in West Virginia for Thanksgiving this year. I have always wanted to visit Hawaii. Never actually had a specific island in mind, knowing eight island masses make up the gorgeous state. I hit a certain travel web site and ended up on the island of O'ahu.

Now the other islands have their charms I am sure. After spending a week on O'ahu, I can only imagine what the other islands have to offer. Certain, one charm would be the Big Island of Hawaii and its still active volcanoes. Of course this includes the islands of Mau'i, Moloka'i, Lana'i and Kaua'i, each one certain to be a paradise all it's own.

Middle aged crazy! A title I have now labeled the downhill portion of my life's ride or momentary lapses in logical judgement have caused me to do some pretty silly things since I passed the age of 45. But I now feel that making a trip to the 50th state was no lapse of judgement. It was possibly one of the best ideals I have ever had.

My arrival to the island of O'ahu was well anticipated, not only for the shear fact that I had never been there before but also for the one reason of being on a flight for 13 hours, nursing an excessively soar butt, lack of sleep and the unquenchable desire to stand upright. Listen, if your legs were as long as mine, confined in a seat designed for a 1o year old and seated third seat over near the window, you would know what I meant!

Sadly, my flight to the island ended close to 10 PM Hawaiian time, or 3 AM eastern standard time, a time zone my body was still stuck in, regardless of what my watch attempted to convince it of, so it was rather dark outside. I had wanted to be able to look out the plane window and see the approach of the island, thinking that would be a spectacular sight in its own. But was unable to fulfill. After all that time in flight, my buttocks cussing me since somewhere over Alabama,( I knew it was Alabama because the plane had a moving map on the LED display in front of me), I was just as tickled to see land, or lights!

Now, I know people have things that they do not wish to be placed in general baggage. I, myself had a laptop I didn't want crushed, so carried it on the plane with me. But I have a problem with those who carry rolling baggage that barely passes the airlines size limit on board. Taking time to shove, push, tamp, cuss, coerce, pound and all but take dynamite and attempt to blow it into the small overhead baggage compartment, thus causing me to stand in the cramped isle waiting, seemingly, with patience, which I lost after my first plane landed in Atlanta.

Their next incredible feat came when the plane landed at its destination. One by one, isle by isle, they take their time getting out of their seats and standing, always looking back to the end of the plane, as if hoping someone was taking their picture or simply be nosey. Stretching a bit, those who were under 5 foot tall, then proceeding to take their time, opening the overhead baggage compartment and gently removing their precious bag that they didn't want roughly handled by ground personnel. Yea, right!....Of course, my seat assignment always placed me near the back of the aircraft so I had to find a whole hell of a lot of patience. And yes, that is what I lost in Atlanta.

Thankful, extremely so, when I did manage to get off the plane, I proceeded to walk inside the terminal. Airport terminals are not designed for simplicity. They are designed to confuse simple minded people such as myself and to help those health minded ones keep their workout routines. It felt like it took almost as long to go from the landing terminal to the departure terminal as it did to actually fly from one place to the other. Once off the plane you take out your ticket, look at the next flight and find the monitor which told you about all the flights. See, very, very quickly, what the number of the terminal was where your next flight will be leaving and hope to God you know where you are going.

Honolulu International was not much different. But this time, I wasn't trying to hurry to my next departure terminal, just simply find where my suitcase was going to be haphazardly thrown out onto a carousel amidst thousands of other suitcases. The walkways from one place to another took the passenger outside the terminals. The cold weather I was accustomed to in West Virginia was absent when I got to Hawaii. A breeze was blowing, warm, but not to warm and the absence of humidity made me smile. Palm trees waving in the breeze, the sound of Hawaiian music playing on the intercom speakers, mhm, I was in Hawaii.

Once I found the area where my luggage was suppose to be returned to me, I huddled among the masses who also were waiting. I quickly found that, there were a thousand people standing there, and only 9 of them spoke anything resembling english, of which, I wasn't sure I was one of them.

Somewhere, working at the airport, someone knew me. They apparently had a grudge against me or had a sister I once dated or knew someone I dated. They knew my past and felt it was required by Hawaiian state law to make me pay for all my past mistakes in life. They knew me! So, here I stood, at the baggage carousel, waiting for my luggage. Luggage which was not coming down that weird contraption anytime soon apparently. But I was patient! Patient until I realized one key important thing. I didn't remember what color my suitcase was!! Oh here was a new problem. The stark realization of waiting for something which obviously already passed me by a dozen times and stupid old me, not realizing I may have let my suitcase pass me by...simply because I forgot what color it was! Was it the red one? The black one? Was it the red one which looked like the one I seen in my closet at home? Did I pack the red one? Wait! No! It wasn't mine, it belonged to the Chinese! Or maybe they liked my red suitcase and decided to take it instead! Hmm, the Chinese stole my red suitcase!

I looked down at the little carry on case I had in my hand. Something resembling a purple material. Not a woman color purple, but a cool color purple. Perhaps my large suitcase was also this color. Could it be that I was color coordinated? Me? Yea, right!! So I took a gamble, walked up to another red suitcase, looked at it and placed it back on the wasn't mine!! And the Chinese hadn't stolen it. About that time, a purplish color case came through the mouth of the vile machine. Could that be mine? Was it even possible that after waiting for a thousand hours the baggage gods would grant me favor by allowing mercy from the handlers and I would receive my suitcase? I quickly jumped on that bag when it came around, willing and ready to fight the Chinese, Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Russians and any other nationality standing nearby. Yes, by gosh I was tired, worn out, sore, in serious pain, aching, throbbing, sick at my stomach, thirsty and staved to death!!! I was willing to start World War III over my suitcase and by god whoever tried to take it would feel the wrath of the Keeper of the Warehouse!!! I WANTED MY BAG!!! wasn't mine!

Damit, I wanted my bag! I wanted it now! Why? What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment from the airlines? Why were they finding such amusement in making me wait? Make me be the last person in the airport to receive their baggage! Wait! Maybe my bag was lost! Maybe it went to Hong Kong! Oh my god!!! The Chinese did have my luggage! What else do they want? They already own 98 percent of America and it's once proud industries. All of our jobs they now owned and the majority of what Wal-Mart now sells comes from there. Why did they want my baggage? What would I do if my baggage was lost and never made it to O'ahu with me? Would I have to buy new underwear? OMG! I didn't have clean underwear now! Mom always said to have clean underwear incase I was ever in an accident. Why, I was never sure of, maybe it had something to do with my HMO or medical insurance coverage. but now I am screwed since my luggage was apparently placed on another flight and is on its way to Hong Kong!

Just when I was about to go into a nervous fit, I saw the machine spit out another purplish bag. Not woman purplish mind you, but a cool purple. Could this be mine? Could my clean undies be in this bag? Did it miss me? Wanted me, desired to be held in my strong hands? Caressed once again by someone who cared for it?.....Wait,,sorry, that's a whole totally new blog! And nothing to do with my suitcase!

Here it came and I pounced on it like a starved Siberian Tiger, quickly took it in my hand and turned it to see the name on the label. Yes,,hallelujah!!!! It was mine! All mine! I am saved, I now have clothing!!!

With all the things which belonged to me in tow, not apologizing to the Chinese for accusing them of stealing my belongings, they wanted it anyway and I knew it, I proceeded to my next challenge. My vacation package also included a rental car and I needed information on where to obtain that thing. The trip to the hotel was not so much a challenge since I already mapquested the trip from the airport to the motel and was ready to tackle the island traffic to get there.

A wonderful lady who worked at the information desk was willing to assist me with my request. Again, keep in mind, not many people there spoke english! Now before someone ready this gets angry with me, I must explain my reasoning for this remark. In no way am I stating that the native people of the gorgeous state of Hawaii can't speak english. They do, with a slight accent of course, but one is able to understand them. My thing is this, there are so many immigrants in this nation and the airports have employed so many of them, forgetting that local people need jobs too. Their lack of skill at speaking our language leaves those less fortunate at language comprehension, such as myself, with the ability to understand what the hell they are saying. All I understood her to say was,,"outside, cross something or another, and wait for something or another".

I thanked her. It was shear politeness and thus required by common ediquette to thank someone for their attempt and thus not my fault I had no dam clue what she meant. I took my stuffage and walked out the door. The barrage of a thousand different languages filled the Hawaiian night air. Hundreds of cars, buses, and such were quickly moving up and down the street in front of the airport.

Ok, here I am, standing outside, baggage in tow, no ideal where I am going or how to get there. Information Lady's information being sketchy at best, I must now use my superior knowledge to decipher what to do or where to go. As I stood there, waiting, looking and exhausted, I noticed some of the shuttle vans having rental car logos on them. I looked at my intinerary and saw what company Priceline had used to provide me a car. Thus hoping I saw a shuttle bus with the word "National" written on it. Since, obviously, I had rented a car from National Car Rentals. Duh!!!!

Long story short, which may be the title of yet another blog entry, I did not get the car simply because my credit card was in my business name and did not have my personal name on it. I can't or won't even begin to describe what I felt at that moment and knew if I didn't mind myself and control my emotions, I would end up a guest at the Honolulu Police Department Regent Hotel. I was rather pissed. And that's being mildly stated! I ask, sort of in a controlled,kind but reserved tone, if the small lady with the huge accent across the rental car counter would be so kind to call me a cab since she robbed me of my right to drive a car there myself. She did with a smile, a smile I wish I could have crammed down her little immigrant throat!! Did I mention I was tired that night? Possibly!

The cab ride was another incredible adventure. Given to me by yet another incredible immigrant. Please let me clarify, I am not against people who legally come to the USA and become a citizen. As long as they do it legally! America is populated by people whos ancestors are from another country. Unless, of course, they happen to be of Native American decent. As I tried to look at Honolulu in the night, read the signs and still try to pray that the hotel didn't require the same thing on my credit card that the car rental place did...or else I was majorly screwed for 5 days. Now wishing I had not taken this trip, thinking what if I can't check into a room which was already paid for, like my rental car was. What would I do?

As I watched the meter on the dashboard of this mini-van and noticing how many times the driver hit his blue tooth ear piece talking in some language I had yet to identify, the amount of the ride was escalating! Hoping my motel was not on the other end of the island or that I would have enough cash in my wallet to pay for the fare, we pulled into the place where I was to stay. AT $35.50 FOR THE RIDE!!! Customary, I know, to tip cab drivers, I was not in any way feeling customary, nor after charging me that amount, were I going to fork out a, "here since you dont make enough money, get your kids braces with this extra cash I wont be needing anymore while I am here" cash tip! Screw it, get a better paying job!

I am sure I will follow this blog with yet another add on to the trip to Hawaii. In all truth, O'ahu was amazingly incredible. Perhaps after day one, and I rested, I ran out of descriptive words to describe this incredible place.

Once at the hotel, I proceeded to the counter. Dreading what was to follow but so seriously needing a shower and a bed, I waited on some young couple who didn't like the room they were given nor the floor it was on. I waited and waited, my legs almost ready to commit mutiny on me and go sit down without the rest of me. My ass and back were applauding the proposed coup against the rest of my body and thus overthrow if they could make it without me.

Sort of a relief when the lady behind the counter ask if I were checking in and gave me papers to fill out. "Oh god, I am close", I thought to myself, hoping the credit card thingy didn't stop my apparent happy time. The young couple in front of me were dragging their check in as long as they could. Apparently they knew who I was as well and knew how long I had been on that dam plane and how tired I was and how badly I wanted to go to bed. THEY KNEW!!! And like the baggage crew at the airport, they wanted to torture me! But finally, after seemingly hours of whining over their proposed room, it was my time.

Anticipation and a slight chance of being weary, yea the credit card thing, I completed my check in. Looking at the clerk behind the counter, I told her I didn't care what room it was, where it was located, what it looked like or if it faced the ocean or the freaking laundry. All I wanted was a place to stay, a bed or couch to sleep on, wasn't interested in a phone, refrigerator or amenities. I needed a shower and sleep. And thus the worry about a fallen, fracked up vacation came to an end when she smiled at me, explained the simple rules and reach me my credit card type room keys! I was smiling like a politician on facebook!!! I had a room and my adventure on O'ahu could begin.

I suppose I should come to a quick end to this blog. I titled it Mahalo Oahu Aloha ad have drifted so far from the titles meaning. I hated the flight over and the flight back, this is true. I lost money on my car rental and wasn't able to get it back. But the things I saw while I was there. The beauty of O'ahu and the hospitality of the Hawaiian people are without question.

In my travels along lifes road, I have seen many places. Well places that are found here on the North American continent. From the coast of Florida to the coast of Maine. Traveled down to the Big Easy (New Orleans) to enjoy the excitement of Mardi Gras. Journeyed to the coast of the Great Lakes to watch my son in Pass in Review when he finished basic training in the navy. Out to the California coast and seen the vast diversity of the state. Swam in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Seen the Mighty Missisip and the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

I have seen the USS Constitution sitting in Boston Harbor, and walked down the very same path that Paul Revere walked. Sat in the Old North Church and imagined Robert Newman climbing to the steeple, at the ready to signal the oncoming army of the British. So many memories I have and things I hold dear to my heart.

But the island of O'ahu has to top it all. Yes, dear avid reader, those one or two of you who read my ramblings, there will be more to this Hawaiian adventure, but that place made such an impact on me.

The Pacific ocean was so clear and pristine, I have never seen an ocean so incredible clear. The lush vegetation that grew everywhere, even in the crater of Diamond Head. The flowers that are constantly in bloom in vast assortment and sizes. Mountains so massive that many of them dwarf the mountains of my own beloved West Virginia.

Food that is also incredible and the taste of fresh pineapple, macadameia nuts. Coconuts and now knowing that the water inside the shell isn't coconut milk, but rather made by crushing the flesh from inside of a coconut and squeezing it from that flesh. I will always remember the sights, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki beach. Honolulu at sunset and how spectacular the shoreline looks on the way up the coast to Laie and the show at the Polynesian Culture Center on a clear quiet evening.

When it came time for me to depart, I sat in the hotel lobby listening to the Hawaiian music playing in the background. Watched so many people with their Hawaiian shirts on, and the beauty of the landscape. I took a deep breath of fresh, wonderful Hawaiian air and listened to the sounds of the shore. I walked along the peir one more time and looked at the ocean floor, the pacific still so clear you could watch crabs walking on the ocean floor.

I watched the surfers taking to the sea, hoping to catch that one wave that will hoist them to superstardom. The kindness of the people and the shear beauty of it all. I didn't want to leave Hawaii and wish I had the time and money to have toured all the islands. Who knows? Maybe one day I shall return to O'ahu. One day I will be able to greet someone on the street with a simple "Aloha cousin". I will never forget this place. And hope my memory never leaves me, or I have indeed lost so much.

With this said and so much more I will add in later blogs about Hawaii. And as the title of this blog states, I will say it again in the language of the islands...Maholo O'ahu, aloha......simply meaning, Thank you O'ahu, and goodbye...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Motorcycles are cool...

Call it what you will. Being silly, midlife crazy or lack of common sense, but back in the summer I purchased a motorcycle. Mhm, I know, too old maybe or too accident prone for a motorcycle, but I bought one anyway. It had been many, many years since I rode one and doubtful I had ever ridden on a a highway, but, as they say, like riding a bicycle, once you learn, you never forget. Right? Well I have never been on a bicycle that went over 50 MPH and was able to skin your rump over a hardtop like a raccoon on steroids, if you lost control of it!

I took my time and re-learned the principle of keeping the thing upright, between the lines and out of traffic. I didnt buy the thing for speed, I bought it to look cool. Guess what? I look dam cool!!! Because? I ride a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool!

As I got braver and braver on the bike and would begin to explore down the road, taking my time and enjoying the wind as it blasted my face, hoping a bumble bee didn't fly up under my helmet. I found that, I now belonged to a breed of super cool people. No one knew me, or my past or where I worked or what I was doing with my life, I was just cool. I found that, other motorcyclist or "bikers", had this super cool way of saying hello to other bikers that they passed on the road. It wasn't a typical "throw your hand up in the air" hello. Nor was it one of those "wave like an idiot" things the Queen does. It was cool, because, we rode motorcycles and motorcycles are cool.

We have this unique greeting, no other person on the road does it, so it is indeed special. Only bikers can greet one another in this way. But we take our left hand, hold it below the handle bars and point outward. Cool huh?

We bikers also do not smile. I, personally, have never had a problem not smiling since so many have attempted to get me to smile through my life. It isn't like we are mad, or bad or just telling the world that we don't put up with crap, it's mainly for one reason. If you smile while traveling at 55 mph, your toothbrush will take heck trying to get the bugs out of your teeth!!

My bike is maroon and an older one. I thought I had best crawl before I attempted to run at a full gallop so I stuck with a smaller bike. But still, it is dam cool and I look dam cool riding it.

First thing I did was to purchase a helmet. Yea I had to have one of those black ones, seeing how I couldn't find one in maroon, and decorated it with flaming skulls. We bikers have to dress like that because we ride motorcycles and motorcycles are cool. Haven't yet made it to the leather jacket, but found that a maroon shirt would work just as well, complete with black leather boots and dark dark sunglasses. I was now freaking cool, cuz I rode a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool.

I took my bike for a ride as often as I could. Enjoying the wind, the sights, the sounds and the feel of the sun on my body. Everything was enjoyable, except for the occasional suicide bug that would hit my nose like a kamikaze at Pearl Harbor. Let me tell you, those darn creatures can bring tears to your eyes. Now I know why we bikers wear dark dark hides the tears after a bug dead centers your nose!!

On my way home one evening, being cool as hell, on my bike, now part of a very elite group of people, I saw on the horizon another bike coming down the road. Awesome! I thought. Now I can give him our super special, ultimately cool, biker greeting. As he neared, I saw another behind him and another and another. Holy hannah I passed two dozen bikers coming down the road, each giving me that unique greeting since I was now as cool as they were. I, not wanting to seem unbrotherly, gave the same unique greeting, left hand slightly below the handlebars, finger pointing downward. All of this being down as I was driving down the road myself, trying to keep the bike upright, steady, going around curves, one hand on the handlebar, attempting to remain cool as hell...That was hard, but I did it. I succeeded because I was cool, simply because I rode a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool.

Nothing is as wonderful as riding your bike. Everything feels much better and so much more wonderful. Even the rain. Coming home one day, storm clouds on the horizon, I knew I had to make a safe dash for home. Hate to be caught out in the weather. Motorcycles don't cling to the wet highways as good as other vehicles. Now a heavy mist, which looks good on your windshield doesn't feel so hot on your face. That blasted stuff hit me like a thousand peed off bees stinging every inch of my face. But I tolerated it, simply because I rode a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool.

Quicker than I could think, the mist turned to rain drops. Not your garden variety rain drops, these were more like water buckets being thrown in my face at a gazillion miles per hour. Let me tell you, I thought of pulling over until it passed but I didn't. I continued to ride my bike down the road. Feeling the gigantic rain drops splatter on my face, feeling like I was being shot, at point blank with a paint ball gun!! But I didn't grimace, cuz I rode a motorcycle and motorcycles were cool.

Maybe next year I will make it to the bike shop and go in debt for a larger, meaner bike to ride next year. But so far, my little Honda Shadow is quite sufficient. And I will keep her cuz I ride a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool.

It had been since the first of September since I last rode my bike. The leaves already turned and fallen to the ground. Even our first snowfall of the year. But today, the weather was nice, warm and sunny. Meaning to wash and wax my bike for winter keep, I decided to dress in my cool attire and hit the road. I put on my cool jeans, cool black boots. I found my black leather belt complete with skull buckle and slipped on my maroon shirt to match my bike. Not really knowing why since I had on a jean jacket which hid the skull buckle belt and maroon shirt, but what the heck, I had to look cool whether anyone saw it or not.

With my black helmet, complete with flaming skulls on the side, dark sunglasses, down the road I headed. It was nice to be on the bike once again. Knowing that the days I would be able to ride were few now since winter is looking us in the face. Feeling the warmth of the sun cover my body, ignoring the cool cool wind, I rode. Cool, well, is an understatement when I rode in the shade of the mountains, it did infact get a little cold until I passed the shaded areas and back into the sun. But this was ok, cuz I rode a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool.

I rode a few miles, up the road and then turning back, heading to Stevens Lake, which looks gorgeous this time of the year with the red oaks in full color. Before I left home, I thought I heard a few bikers heading up or down the road. Sadly, I never seen any, appearing that, I was the only biker to brave the cool wind and take advantage of the time given to ride. Passing the lake, noticing the folks fishing and riding their boats, (no I didnt wave at any of them, how could I? They weren't on a motorcycle and thus were not worthy of the super special, ultimately cool motorcycle greetings as we cool bikers were.)

I turned my bike around, lost in thought as I so usually am. Heading back down the road, taking in the late fall beauty of the West Virginia countryside, on the horizon, heading towards me....another motorcycle! As we passed, I saw the other riders left hand leaving his handlebar. I removed mine. We both dropped our hands slightly below the handlebar, fingers pointing outwards....our super special, ultimately cool biker greeting was given. We didn't know who the other was, or where he came from. We didn't care. All we knew was, we had to greet one another in that special way. simply because, we rode motorcycles and motorcycles were cool.

I had rode my bike today. I had met a fellow biker and our super special greeting was exchanged. Now I was able to go home, completely satisfied. Slowly I headed home, watched the sun slip away, not knowing what tomorrow would hold in store or the next few months. Never knowing when I will once again belong to that special group who take to the road every summer, giving that super special, ultimately cool greeting to one another.

I parked my bike back in the garage. Promised her that I would be back to take her for a spin as soon as I could. Thanking her for a safe trip and faithful ride. I placed my helmet on the mirror, my dark dark sunglasses neatly folded, on the leather seat. Walked out of the garage holding my head high and proud. Yea, I was cool. Cool as hell, simply because I rode a motorcycle and motorcycles are cool.....

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Fleeting Moment

Not sure exactly, since I failed to look, how long it had been since I wrote my last log entry. I know that I wrote about there being fewer days ahead than they are behind. I referred this entry to myself and no one else. Little did I know what the future had in store.

This past Monday, June 27, 2011, as I awoke to get ready for work. There appeared to be a voice message waiting. The mine where I worked had called and left me a message telling me that work for that day had been canceled.

I am accustomed to our mine having machinery problems which will cause it to temporarily close down from time to time so I never really paid much attention to it. Equipment problems or perhaps closed down due to an inspection violation and went back to bed.

Monday was going to be like any other Monday. I would head to mine foreman class as I had for the past couple months and spend the evening at home. The company paying for the day.

When I got to class, I met another co-worker/classmate who happened to be the electrician for another section of the mine I work at. I ask why our job had canceled work and his reply was rather matter-of-fact.

He said that he heard someone had been killed at our mine on the midnight shift. Rather hard to believe but he was adamant about his source. I placed a few calls and so did he and we soon found some sort of evidence that someone we worked with had indeed either been killed or badly injured.

With-in an hour, we both had confirmation. A co-worker had indeed lost his life that night.

I think that, during that day in class, reality slowly sank in. It was hard to believe that someone we saw every day or talked to, passed some sort of joke with, no longer lived.

I have spent almost 24 years underground as a coal miner. I have seen many different things in that span of time and witnessed many different accidents, both minor and life changing. But I have never worked at any mine where anyone lost their life.

I rode my motorcycle to the mine entrance and spoke with a guard. Trying my best to find out as much information as I could about the accident. I knew who it was that lost their life, knew how and what time it happened.

The next day we were allowed back into the mine. A handful of us of course, which I was one of those called to work. We had work to do at the area of the mine where the accident happened. One of the foremen there ask if I had seen the place where the young man was killed. He took me to this one area and what I saw actually amazed me.

The wall or rib of the mine had fell, striking the man as he had his back turned to it. I had read a report from news stations about the size of the "rock" that had hit him and expected something massive.

What I saw was possibly 6 to 7 feet in length and not nearly as large as I had anticipated. The first thought that came to my mind was, "how could that have killed a man?"

To be busted up, crushed, badly injured..yes! But to take the life of someone? It just didnt seem possible.

I will not go into details of what else I had seen. Some things are best left unspoken. It was a quiet time that week at work. So many young miners never before witnessed to accidents were badly shaken. So many young apprentice miners who worked side by side with the victim, may possibly never recover from what they witnessed nor the aftereffects. Images will no doubt haunt them for the rest of their lives.

I went to the wake service for the young man, his accomplishments thus far in life very impressive to say the least. He was a very loved and respected man and will surely be missed. I attended for two reasons. 1. He was a lost co-worker and paying respects was an honor. Both knowing him and remembering everything he stood for and, 2. He was a coal miner first and foremost.

We are a rare breed here in the coal industry. A breed of people I am proud of being part of. We do things on a daily basis that very few have the courage or stupidity to do. We rob mountains of their coal, never paying much attention or at least acknowledgement of the mountains potential to retaliate. She will turn of you when you least expect it and God have mercy on you if you turn your back on her.

Beside this young mans casket, placed on a small stand, was his hardhat and cap light. His utility belt tucked underneath, the light shining upwards into the distance. As I sat in one of the church pews, I noticed many co-workers and many I did not know, pass by, placing their hand on his hard hat. They were coal miners, had to be. And that is our way of saying goodbye.

Regardless of who we are or where in this world we happen to be, coal ties us together. We are family, brothers and sisters of a rare family. Coal binds us, beckons to us, calls us and yes, rules us.

I stepped out of it for eleven years. Last year I came back to it. Resistance was futile. Countless dreams over the years let me know that I would indeed, be going back to the mountains dark, damp realm.

Fewer days ahead than behind! I know this each day I venture underground. Each day I look towards the sky and say to myself.."I'll see you later." Hoping the shift will be a safe one and I can safely return home.

But what is that had been me? What if, after eleven years apart, this time I will not be so lucky? What if I am the next one, the mountain taking me after all I have helped do to her? Remorse or regret for a job I have known since 1980? No. It is simply something I know can happen but work hard to avoid it. Always conscience of mother mountain, never taking my eye off her for even a small moment. Never turning my back to her. Never flirting with her, angering her.

My family will not understand. Doubtful they could. I am a coal miner. And I know the dangers I face each day and am thankful to God for each day I am able to drive home.

Our friend and co-worker will be missed. This I am sure of. Missed dearly.

My hand placed upon yet another hard hat.......

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fewer Days Ahead than Behind....

One of my favorite rock groups, "Chicago" sang a song, "I've been searching". The lyrics go something like this:

As my life goes on I believe, Somehow something's changed. Something deep inside, Ooh a part of me.

There's a strange new light in my eyes, things I've never known. Changin' my life,Changin' me.
I've been searchin' so long, to find an answer. Now I see myself as I am feeling very free.

Life is everything, Ooh it's meant to be. When my tears have come to an end, I will understand what I left behind, part of me.

One year ago, this July, I returned to the work force after eleven years of retirement. Somehow, my little mixed up brain has always thought I was still in my 20's or 30's. Little did it realize how incredibly wrong it was. Little did it understand that there are fewer days ahead than they are behind.

No more did I have elders to look up to and listen to at work. Now, I was the elder, the old man, grandpa, old one and a host of other ancient names. Slowly, I began to realize just how old I have become.

Like the song implies, somehow somethings changed. And I imagine that it has been me all along. Still the messed up person I have always been, but just older. Still feel that my life is missing so much, but yet unable to determine what it is I have been missing. "Searching, to find an answer", but unable to find it, possibly because I do not know the question.

Searching for something, seeking for a hint or a glimpse or glimmer of an answer, now realizing I may never find it and yet leaving such a large part of myself behind. I have longed for so much, sought after fairy tales and hoped for things that only existed in books and the dreams of children, now reality sets in, and there is no answer to be found. I will never know since there are fewer days ahead than they are behind.

I love the spring, the world is coming back to life and gives new hope. Fall has beautiful colors but it reminds me that soon, those gorgeous leaves will drop to the ground and all will be bare, lifeless and dead.

I am now at the age, or rather in a seasonal overtone, entering into the "fall season" of my life. Not knowing the days, months or years it will take before the cold harsh winter sets in and life will be over. Fewer days ahead than there are behind.

What my heart once longed for, it no longer seeks. What my soul once desired and craved, it has become complacent and decided no more will it entertain such childish desires. Emotions once wishing to be released have now been locked safely behind mental closet doors. No more will they be set free again. Fewer days ahead than they are behind.

So I shall try to be satisfied with what and who I am and where my life has taken me so far. Do my best to settle that things will change only if it is destined. Be happy with today for there may be no tomorrow.

Yesterday,, at age 48, I purchased a motorcycle. Yea I know, many guys my age and older are buying these things. I look at it is my final days of middle age crazy. Doing what I had always wanted to do but never could do it. Fewer days ahead than there are behind.

Here's to tomorrow.......