Jul 24

Day 2- March 17, 2018- Honolulu

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 12:01 AM

By

Lieutenant Leroy Fadem recently revisited sites in the Pacific where he saw action in the Navy during the tumultuous years of the War in the Pacific over 70 years ago. This is a journal of that recent trip as kept by his son, Steven Fadem, who accompanied Lt. Fadem on that journey of rediscovery.

(Courtesy of the Author)

(Courtesy of the Author)

The darkness out our window slowly fades to gray as the first rays of sunrise illuminate the palm trees silhouetted against a still ocean.

This is a very different Honolulu than existed on the morning of December 7, 1941. It was a quiet Sunday morning in a much simpler time. There were no Apple or AT&T Wireless stores an easy walk out the hotel door. There was no texting or emailing capability to quickly communicate with your friends. TV was in its infancy. Radio was the national medium of communications and entertainment. Interaction with your neighbors and friends was via the phone, handwritten letters or walking down the street. Seventy-six years ago, December 7 and Pearl Harbor became synonymous with something radically different than its solitude, beautiful beaches and palm trees.

We start our day at the end of the story. The U.S. military always honored its soldiers and sailors by trying to give those who have died in battle a proper burial and recognition. The goal is to bring everyone service member home. There are currently 78,000 soldiers/sailors who have not. That is the job of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (the “DPAA.”) Its mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for the missing personnel to their families and the nation. Over 600 civilian and military historians, genealogists, anthropologists, archeologists, archivists and more work together. Most of their work, focuses on World War II to the present.

We received a unique, behind-the-scenes tour of the DPAA’s Lab where the recovery of the remains of lost soldiers/sailors is coordinated and their identity ascertained. We learned how the military coordinates search and location missions in dense jungles and on deserted beaches. A small task force of experts from many fields does research on someone lost in battle and organizes scouting missions to interview aging witnesses who can help locate the missing servicemen/women. When appropriate, a full archeological mission is deployed and when remains are found they are brought back here for identification. Often only a small piece of material or a single bone is found that can be used for identification.

One doctor, of Irish/Welch/Hispanic descent, explained the difficulty of using racial stereotypes to identify skulls. While they are very clear differences between several racial characteristics in bones, her own example of intermingled genetics showed how hard that technique can be to identify someone. Using pelvises and a small skull she demonstrated how the much larger of two pelvises did not automatically belong to a man, but was a woman’s with the bone structure to allow for the birth canal- and a baby’s skull- to pass through.

The most stunning part of the visit was the laboratory itself, where hundreds of skeletal remains lay on autopsy tables, with as many bones as they have been able to match for that individual. Row upon row of neat, clean white tables line the laboratory. Skeletons are laid out- some partial and some seemigly-complete. Sometimes the bones are recovered from hastily-constructed cemeteries at 75-year old battle sites and sometimes from unmarked graves at National Cemeteries like the Punchbowl in Honolulu. In the mid-1990s, during a brief thaw in relations with North Korea, that government turned over hundreds of boxes of the purported remains of American servicemen and they have been under analysis by the DPAA ever since. It turns out that the forensic scientists determined that (a) the remains of many Koreans were intermixed with the American servicemen and (b) in some of the boxes were the bones of dozens of individuals. Painstakingly, over 20 years, they have sorted through the bones and made positive identifications of close to 100 American servicemen from the Korean War, but many more remain.

In one case, DNA narrowed the range on one body as belonging to one of six men. One of the doctors on staff examined an arm bone and detected what he thought was a possible fracture line that escaped the notice of others. An x-ray revealed a prior break. There was also a hairline fracture of the pelvic bone. There in one of the files was a letter from the mother of one of the servicemen, written 60 years ago to investigators from the Army, mentioning that her son broke his arm in an accident when he was six years old and he later had a bad fall and severely bruised his buttocks. Our guide realized this was the one she was looking for. After 65 years she was able to return a fallen soldier to his family. Her joy in being able to bring peace to that family was intoxicating.

A poster with a picture of every fallen soldier graces one wall in a hallway; on the opposing wall is a mirror poster with a picture moved from one to the other when a positive identification is made. It was very moving.

A nice buffet lunch at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam provided a break and an interesting juxtaposition. We sat at picnic tables overlooking the bay and watched planes take off from an airport with commercial jets and jumbo military C-5s taking off one after the other. The airport serves as both a military and international commercial airport. It was this field that was a prime target on December 7, 1941. The Commander of Pearl Harbor feared espionage was a greater threat than external attack so he ordered all the fighter planes parked wing-to-wing to better protect them on the ground. Unfortunately that made them much better targets from the air and the American air capability at Pearl was severely crippled that day as a result.

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Lunch break (Courtesy of the Author)

The USS Missouri, a majestic battleship anchored next to the USS Arizona Memorial, was our next stop. With enormous 16 inch guns, they could hit a target 20 miles away with the accuracy of 50 yards- half the length of a football field.

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Deck of the Missouri (Courtesy of the Author)

Yet it was on the deck of the Missouri that in early September 1945 the Japanese signed the surrender documents that formally ended the War in the Pacific. Dad and I both always pictured the ceremony on the broad stern deck and were surprised to find out it occurred amidships on a small fan deck off of the Captain’s cabin; a large battery of guns turned broadside to make room for the ceremony.

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Docent on the Missouri (Courtesy of the Author)

Our docent outlined how the Japanese envoys were not sure whether they would be allowed to leave afterwards; some assumed they would be executed as war criminals and made funeral arrangements for themselves. They were shocked and relieved, therefore, when General MacArthur opened the ceremony with words of peace and reconciliation. The Japanese officer who translated for his fellow delegation members was said to have been in shock at MacArthur’s generosity of spirit. I have just re-read MacArthur’s comments and found them profoundly inspirational:

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MacArthur’s words (Courtesy of the Author)

Multiple lessons abound from these simple yet eloquent words.

We are blessed with the presence on our bus of historian Richard Frank, whose monumental volume on the road to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “ Downfall,” told in large part through newly-released and translated documents from the Japanese archives, shows the war through Japanese as well as American eyes. His commentary earlier in the day on how the events leading up to December 7 were interconnected to events in Europe and the roles of the U.S., China, the Soviet Union and the other Allies in their interplay-politically, economically and strategically- to each other showed how inexorable was the march to war.

With Richard’s words echoing, and fresh from the Missouri, we motored to the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

We watched a brief movie about the forces that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It detailed facts commonly-known yet chilling, sitting as we did amidst a calm park that now abuts the USS Arizona memorial. The old newsreel footage was likewise very familiar and bone-chilling at the same time, with graphic scenes of the attack on Pearl Harbor from US and Japanese footage. We walked out of the movie moved, saddened and feeling helpless.

Our brief boat ride to the site of the USS Arizona Memorial was quiet. When we docked the captain asked that everyone remain seated until the WWII veterans and their families disembarked. Two Marines flanked the gangway as Dad and I and several other vets and their families stepped off to sustained and loud applause. The Marines’ crisp salute was returned by Dad and for a moment I flashed back in my imagination to Dad for the last time stepping off his last command, LST in early 1946 to return home to his family after his tour of duty.

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Arizona Memorial (Courtesy of the Author)

Walking up the ramp to the Arizona is humbling. A simple white marble structure, it evokes strength and peace while integrating with the sky above with the water below. A few parts of the Arizona deck and infrastructure protrude from the water and white buoys mark the bow and stern. Other than that one resorts to memory of the old newsreels and pictures to bring up the Arizona. Except for the oil. The smell of the oil. Seventy-six years later and oil is still oozing out of the hull of the Arizona and you can smell it. Pungent. Lingering. Powerful. An assault on your senses. Memory-evoking. For the memorial becomes a living, breathing reminder of the horror of that day when 1,177 Navy and Marine personnel died before they had a chance to leave the perceived safety of their ship’s mooring. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the oil slick on the water below me. For all the grandeur of the monument itself, in its own elegant simplicity, the sight and smell of the oil transformed the moment for me.

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(Courtesy of the Author)

Dad and I moved to the end of the Memorial and there, etched on the marble wall, are the names of all those 1,177 brave souls. Over thirty pairs of brothers, a father-son and several members of three-brother families perished in a few brief moments of fiery hell. As we read the names Dad became very emotional and I could only imagine there must be a “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God” moment that occurs. It does for me and it clearly does for him. I also saw the Brotherhood of the Navy in that moment; a Navy man mourning the loss of fellow sailors and Marines.

There is a moving tradition that anyone serving on the Arizona that day may be buried in the hull with his fellow crew members. They are cremated and their ashes put in an urn that is placed by divers inside the hull. The names of several dozen men so buried are also inscribed at the base of the wall, alongside the names of their comrades.

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(Courtesy of the Author)

There is no adequate way to describe the sense one feels on the Arizona. I was profoundly moved by the experience.

Upon docking back at the park I wanted to see the USS Bowfin, a retired attack sub moored across from the Arizona. I assumed Dad would want to sit in the park while I ran over to the sub but he enthusiastically said “let’s do it.” So “let’s do it we did” as we climbed up the ramp to the Bowfin and Dad and I scampered through the forward hatch down into the bowels of the ship. We found ourselves first in the forward torpedo room where Dad gave me and several others in our group a detailed accounting of the procedures to load and launch torpedoes; his first assignment on the Stevens was Torpedo Officer.

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Inside the USS Bowfin (Courtesy of the Author)

These were the same torpedoes used by the Stevens. With six forward and four rear torpedo tubes, the Bowfin packed quite a wallop in firepower and Dad explained how the 20-foot, 3,200 pound Mark 14 “fish” was armed and aimed in a spread to optimize their chances of hitting enemy ships. He then led us in a tour of the ship, sprightly moving from one watertight compartment through its elevated hatches to the next with a running commentary that everyone found fascinating. When we climbed back up through the stern hatch and moved to the forward topside bridge Dad climbed up and I could sense a bit of wistfulness for what might have been. When he was rotated off the Stevens in 1944 he requested submarine duty but the exigencies of war resulted in his transfer States side to join an LST coming off the assembly line in Jeffersonville, Indiana as a Plankowner- a member of the original crew. He helped take LST 871 down the Mississippi and through the Panama Canal into the Pacific. But as he stood looking out over the bow of the Bowfin from the commander’s perch I could only imagine the thoughts going through his mind. Here are Dad and I on the deck of the Bowfin and he in front of one of the torpedoes he was trained to take apart, put back together and launch.

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(Courtesy of the Author)

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(Courtesy of the Author)

Riding back to our hotel we watched a vintage interview with the late-Senator Daniel Inouye who described his experiences as a Japanese American medic-in-training pressed into action, on his way to church, on December 7 in his hometown of Honolulu to tend to the wounded and dying; how he faced discrimination because of the fear that Japanese Americans might represent a third column; how he petitioned the President to be able to serve his country and how, alongside an African-American battalion of soldiers he battled in Italy, receiving 17 blood transfusions from members of that battalion after he lost an arm in the battle- an amazing testament to fighting against bigotry, hate and stereotyping by the man who would go on to become a revered Senator from his home state.After quick showers we attended a lively cocktail reception on the hotel lawn, looking out over another beautiful sunset, then enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the table of the Museum’s COO, Becky Mackie, who gave us the history of the museum and described the role of these tours in the museum’s strategic plan. We also heard some wonderful stories from Jon Parshall, an historian whose extensively-researched and richly-detailed history of the Battle of Midway, “Shattered Sword,” was sent to everyone on the tour (and remains to be read by some of us, though not for lack of desire.)

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(Courtesy of the Author)

One of the highlights of the trip so far has been watching the admiration that everyone has for Dad and the other WWII and subsequent-era vets. He and they are repeatedly asked to pose for pictures, tell their stories and answer questions. I think a few members of the tour plan to run off with Dad at the end of the trip.

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(Courtesy of the Author)

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(Courtesy of the Author)

It was an enormously moving, educational, inspirational and in some ways overwhelming day. A precursor for what is to come.