Third of seven parts
You can fly out of the Samoan island of Ta'u at 3 p.m., make a connection through the sister island of Tutuila departing at midnight, and arrive in the Hawaiian island of Oahu around 6 a.m. Not bad.
Polynesian lore says Hawaii was discovered by explorers from Ta'u, and it took them a lot longer to get there.
According to Samoan legend, Tagaloalagi called forth the world creating earth, sea and sky from molten rock, and soon thereafter he made man. The original Polynesians are thought to have developed in the saua region of Ta'u some 3,000 years ago. Gradually they spread out across the Pacific, some eventually sailing 2,600 miles northeast to where they encountered the outcroppings now known as the Hawaiian Islands.
Personally, I'll take the night flight.
The Hawaiian island of Oahu has just about everything for everybody someplace. We stayed with a former faculty colleague of my wife, Judy, in a just-below-the-penthouse apartment overlooking Waikiki. To the north was the lovely campus and rainforest preserve of the University of Hawaii; to the east was Diamond Head; and to the west, Pearl Harbor.
We spent one day busing and walking around town visiting the state capitol, the Iolani Palace (the residence of the last Hawaiian king, on the capitol grounds), Waikiki Beach and various city parks. The street system seems a bit chaotic, with some east-west streets attempting to follow the hills while the others attempt to follow the bay. This makes for lots of interesting pocket parks filled with statues and water displays.
For a child of the 1940s, one place on Oahu is a "must see" — Pearl Harbor and the Battleship Missouri. How well I remember: My mother and father had just moved across the tracks to a new two-bedroom house in the middle-class part of town. It was Sunday, and Dad was working on the house. Mom and I had spent the morning helping him and were tired, so Mom decided to give me a treat and take me to a matinee at the Fox Arlington Theater. The movie had just gotten under way when the lights went up and the manager came to the center of the stage and announced the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor.
Everyone left the theater. My father had taken the car to get some materials for the house and expected to meet us for ice cream after the movie. Mom and I walked home in shock. I was really torn because I had several good Japanese-American friends and I wondered how the war would affect them. So far, I had not had any problems with my German name and looks; so, I could not begin to fathom the vehemence which was to be let loose on the Japanese-Americans.
The next day my father attempted to volunteer as a Marine Corps pilot. Although he was an experienced barnstormer, he was turned down as being too old, having reached the ripe age of 30. He spent the rest of the war as a carpenter working with the Seabees. While the Seabees did not live charmed lives, their survival rate in the Pacific was higher than the Marines'.
What I am trying to say is this: For a person in my age group, if you are on Oahu, you go to Pearl Harbor. The Honolulu bus company took us from the door of the condo to the Pearl Harbor Memorial gate in record time at negligible cost. Public transit works on Oahu.
At the memorial, managed by the National Park Service, volunteers introduce the obligatory film orientation. The military and civilian film clips transport the watcher to a time of great fear, daring, and caring for one's fellow man.
Our "peacetime" army was heavily criticized for being a bunch of ne'er-do-wells who existed for three square meals a day and a roof over their heads. At Pearl Harbor, our people were poorly led by men who did not get the word — and when they did get it, did not understand it. Our planes were unarmed; if they could have taken off, they would have been shot down at will.
Generally speaking, we really didn't need most of the ships that were sunk. They were obsolete, demanding precious resources that could be put to better use. While we lost many men in the attack, they were considered expendable by the remote men in the East Coast political establishment. The major effect of the "sneak attack" was to put the public in a fanatic frame of mind to pursue the war immediately at all cost.
After the film clips leave you shuddering at the horrible loss of life, a boat takes you to the actual memorial. Some 50 to 60 people exit the boat, passing an equivalent number leaving the memorial to return to the shore. Everyone is subdued; the memorial is almost silent. Walking along the shrine, you look down into the water, catching a glimpse here and there of the USS Arizona. After a bomb went off in the ammunition magazine, the old battleship went down with 1,177 crewmen — half the total number of lives lost in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Of course, the Battleship Missouri is the place the war in the Pacific ended with the unconditional surrender of the Japanese. High points of the USS Missouri tour: the replica of the private plane whose pilot flew among the Japanese attackers and lived to tell the story; the Surrender Deck where, on Sept. 2, 1945, the Allied leaders gathered to accept the Japanese total capitulation; and one of the world's greatest gun platforms, which played a major role in the Korean police action.
When I was a gung-ho midshipman in NROTC, my gunnery sargent told his favorite war story about the USS Missouri. Seems he was an artillery spotter with quite a reputation as a recoilless rifleman. One day he was observing for a company of Marines, and a Chinese tank group came down the road directly at his company's position. He immediately called in a fire order to Battalion, only to learn all the unit's guns were busy with multiple fire orders.
Finally Battalion passed him off to the Navy and the USS Missouri cruising off the coast. The first 16-inch shell took out the bridge between the tanks and his company, and then the ship walked her fire up the road and extinguished the tank group. It is hard to overcome some interservice rivalry, but gunny is a true believer in the ability of Navy gunners to overcome factors of powder chemistry and decay; ship roll, heave, pitch etc.; and all the other problems involved with tossing a shell from a moving platform to a 6-foot square almost 20 miles away.
While in Hawaii, we wanted to crawl at least one decent mall before returning home to our Kmart and Cost-U-Less, so we took the bus back to Waikiki and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. For visitors whose thing is mall crawling, Honolulu merchants make it easy, with a free shuttle between the major sites.
If you want a total Oahu experience, you are well advised to take the bus for a dollar. That's right: one George Washington buck will get you all the way around the island of Oahu. If you want to go clockwise, take bus #52, which leaves Ala Moana at 7 a.m. and returns at 6:20 p.m. Sit on the left for the best views. To go counterclockwise, take bus #55, leaving Ala Moana at 7:05 a.m. and returning at 4:35 p.m., and sit on the right. Actually, things do change, so call the bus company to get the correct times.
The Oahu bus system, recognized as one of the best public transit systems in the United States, has some 4,000 stops on the island. With the $1 fares (50 cents for children), transfers are allowed between routes.
Having tried Oahu this first time, we plan to return and really wring it out.
Next: The American Samoan island of Tutuila — adventure tourism off the beaten track (but with good bus service by day)
ISLAND HOPPING: HAWAII'S OAHU
Third of seven parts
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