While stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, I was reminded daily of the Pearl Harbor attack. I was a junior officer and worked on the third floor of the Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces building. Each day as I entered the doors of that historic building I saw the dozens of pock marks on the exterior walls, machine gun damage from Japanese Zeroes, and left there untouched to remind all of us the importance of vigilance.
And I was honored to visit the USS Arizona Memorial on many occasions. We in the military had special and easy access to the memorial at any time we wished to visit. And, I'm proud to say that I was given the special privilege as an officer to swear in many of my enlisted force during their 're-up' ceremony…an honorable and happy event when they raised their right hand and signed up for four more years of service. The swearing in ceremony is usually led by Colonels and Generals but, as a prior enlisted officer, many of my troops honored me by asking me to lead their swearing in. It is always a special day for the enlisted man and he is given a preference of when and where it will be held. It is a "chill bump" moment when the man or woman will again swear the oath to defend their country and their constitution.
Because of the august nature of the USS Arizona Memorial, and because it is a living symbol of military sacrifice, it was often the choice of where my troops wanted to be sworn in. So, off we would go, in the early morning hours and meet up on the docks of Pearl Harbor Navy Base. Service member, family and friends would be ferried out to the Memorial, arriving just as the sun is rising over the island.
Once we docked at the Memorial we would all note the drops of oil, still rising to the top of the water even after half a century has passed. We all become more quiet and solemn as we imagine those floating drops as tears rising to the surface, tears from over 1100 sailors who gave their lives on that historic day.
Then, as the trade winds carried the scent of plumeria across the harbor, we would march to the memorial wall where inscribed are the names of those who still live in their watery grave below. I would then call the troop being sworn in forward, would raise my right hand, as he raised his, and he would recite the solemn pledge offered time and time again during his military career.
And that pledge was never as heart felt and never offered with as much commitment as when they stood atop the graves of the hundreds of military men who rest below our feet.
It is often hard for those who never served to understand the almost religious commitment that a service member offers in his swearing in. Most of us know and have friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. When they recite that centuries old oath they are following in the footsteps of millions who have sacrificed, and those who gave their lives for their country. And never was that commitment as endearing, as enduring, as when it is offered while standing on the very shoulders of those who paid the ultimate price.
Take a moment and say a prayer for those who gave their lives…and offer a prayer of safety for all of our service members as they awake today and head out to do their duty.