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The Heart Never Forgets

What an ominous feeling, looking out over the dark water knowing that 1,177 men still lay entombed forever below. The flag flew at half staff on the Arizona memorial blowing in an azure sky silently waving to and fro in all its glory. Now I know why they call it Old Glory. How magnificent each star shown in that bright Hawaiian sun. The red stripes against the azure sky were breath taking. I thought, red for blood. The blood of those entombed below that forever stopped flowing that Sunday morning, December 7th 1941. Red for the rising sun. The emblem of the Japanese flag whose country so viscously caused this catastrophe.

It was a surreal experience standing over the Arizona looking into that dark tomb with my father who survived that horrific day to come back once again. Although it had been 59 years since his feet last touched this land, it was as real as if it had happened yesterday. Seeing the tears stream down his face as he tossed flowers into the water remembering those lost made me realize just how real it could be. Although over a half a century had passed, the heart does not forget. It is like a time machine transporting you back in time. Back to that horrific day. The air gets heavy. It makes it harder to breathe. There is a lump in your throat. It is hard to swallow. Your palms become cold and clammy. Your heart feels like it will jump out of your chest. The heart always remembers.

My father looked older that day. Older than I had ever seen him look before. Each step was an effort. Each breath racked with grief. After he tossed the last flower into the watery grave, he said, "Those poor guys didnít stand a chance. It happened so fast. Most of them just wanted something to eat that Sunday morning." I remember sitting with him in the theater before boarding the skiff to the memorial. The video of the Arizona blowing up and the deafening roar of the blast went through to your soul. I had glanced over at my father and I could see the look of horror in his eyes. It was all too real. It left you numb. It was hard to breathe. It was hard to swallow. The heart never forgets.

During the ceremony that morning remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor, we sat transfixed watching the navy ship silently pass by like a giant in the harbor effortlessly gliding through the water. Sailors in their sparkling white uniforms lined the deck like tiny toy soldiers all in a row silently honoring the brave men and women whose lives were lost that day 59 years ago. Ending the silence was our national anthem being sung so tenderly by a service man. During the song, a rainbow started to form overhead as if God was watching and was giving his approval. Just as the last note was sung to our national anthem, the rainbow burst forth out of the sky unable to contain itself any longer.

Long fingers of bright color reached out across the sky and touched the Arizona memorial dancing and playing upon the white silhouette in the bright sunshine. We then heard the roar of jet engines as four jets raced by. Flying together under the rainbow as one until one broke away. Forever missing from the others. The twenty-one gun salute followed with the precision and grace only the armed forces can give. My heart was bursting forth with pride, compassion, sorrow, happiness and every emotion imaginable. My father cried. We all cried. The heart never forgets.

As we entered the skiff to leave the Arizona memorial, I will never forget looking back as it grew smaller and smaller in the distance. It was like we left a piece of our heart there. It brings to mind a head stone I had read at the punch bowl the day before. A 6th marine division chaplain spoke these words at our cemetery on Okinawa in 1945. He said, "This is not a bivouac of the dead. It is a colony of heaven, and some part of us all is buried here." How true these words rang in my head. All my life I thought I knew my father. I learned about a different man today. A young man of 20 barely out of high school going through such a horrific experience that it still effects him over a half a century later just as real as if it happened yesterday. The heart never forgets.

I know that I shall never forget this day. I am glad that I was able to share it with my father. Standing by his side feeling his pain and his emotions. Knowing just a little of what he experienced. Although I could see the 80-year-old man standing beside me, I could feel the 20-year-old man standing there. Afraid and horrified at what he saw, heard, and felt. No, the heart never forgets. Mine wonít either.

Dec 7th, 2000
Jodi M. Spangler

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