Friday, December 08, 2006

A Day that will live in Infamy

December 7th, 2006 was blustery and rainy. I figured flying my paraglider was out, so it was with great pleasure and curiosity that we attended the Grand Opening of the Pacific War Aviation Museum at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

Today was the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Fleet and their 500+ dive bombers, torpedo planes, and fighter aircraft. Attendance was high for the Memorials. At pier 37 were the survivors of the battle of Pearl Harbor, their families, distinguished guests, like our Big Bob (who did all the tireless work doing the lighting and sound systems), and the general public -- attendance was estimated at 3,000+ for the early morning memorial. The general public that was gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial had waits of 3 hours or more to enter the memorial. The USS Bowfin submarine lines were more than 100 feet long.

The attendance for the USS Missouri was almost sold out, and they had Navy bands, news crews, and a large tent setup for their memorial.

We arrived at 9:00 am, and were promptly told that we would have to wait until 1:45 to see the USS Arizona memorial, so we decided to hit the USS Missouri instead. It was great. I have been to the USS Missouri several times, and once even went on the Admiral's tour (below decks). But today was definitely more exciting than ever. This was due to the fact that there were World War II veterans all over the place. Most in their late 80's, but their eyes sparkled like kids again when the returned home to the ships of their youth. The Pearl Harbor Veterans return only every five years, so this year will likely be the last for most of these old veterans. We were privileged enough to meet a WWII veteran of the USS Missouri in the bridge, and he proceeded to give us a personal tour and history of his old ship. He served aboard the USS Missouri from 1942 to 1947, and even witnessed the signing of the end of the war in Japan with General Macarthur. Wow!

After that, we hustled over to the Pacific War Aviation Museum on Ford Island to witness the Grand Opening. We arrived at 11:45, just in time to see and hear General Chuck Yeager and Wally Shira announce the opening. Although it would have been nice to meet General Yeager again, he was instantly swallowed up by many more fans than I.

So, off we went into the museum. The first thing I noticed was the floor tiles were actual aerial photos of Pearl Harbor. As we descended into the hangar, it became quite evident that we were witnessing history in the making. In front of the originally restored Japanese Zero were some of the remaining Japanese bomber and fighter pilots of the attack on Pearl Harbor, gathered with their American counterparts. Wow. It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces as they hugged, shook hands, and posed for our cameras. But this was not the highlight of my visit. Read on:

We walked a few feet more, and there was a B-25 hanging from the ceiling, just like the planes that Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle commanded on the raid over Tokyo.

We then walked down to the Navy Hellcat fighter display where, lo and behold, who do I bump into but Scrappy.

Well, it turns out our very own Claude Phillips IIII (AKA Scrappy) is the grandson of Claude Phillips Jr.(Claude II), the Navy Hellcat fighter pilot of VF-2 squadron. He was stationed on the USS Hornet CV-8 (aircraft carrier) when it was sunk by the Japanese during the battle of Santa Cruz. He did manage to shoot down two Japanese pilots before having to crash land on the USS Enterprise that was under attack as well. His plane was extremely shot up in the baggage doors (see front of Bomb doors) and the hydraulics for his wing flaps were knocked out. So, at high speed and after being told to ditch his plane in the ocean (about which he states "the radio transmission was garbled, hee hee"), he slammed onto the deck of the USS Enterprise and made it home. There were other battles to come for Grandpa Phillips I'm sure, and maybe we could get Claude Phillips IIII or his father Claude Phillips III (who lives in Kailua) to tell us a few more stories.

So, it turns out that Scrappy was holding out on us about his inherited natural abilities to fly.

At the end of the day and after 7 hours of walking around in the presence of greatness, I could only feel very humble and proud to be an American.

Pete "Reaper" Michelmore
2/504th ABN INFANTRY 82nd Airborne Division


Alex said...

You're right, Pete - it definitely explains a lot. And now I know why Scrappy was able to crash land his paraglider with such style on the side of the hill behind Sea Life Park that time, on like his fourth flight!

JeffMc said...

Wow - what a great article Pete. It makes my staying home and bitching about the wind today seem awfully petty.

Gravity said...

Thank you Jeff. It was so much fun.

What a great day...

Suicide said...

God bless America