Friday, May 5, 2017

Standing on Ground Zero with a Hero

Mr. Dick Girocco, a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec 7, 1941.

We have been on Oahu for the past 11 days staying in Kailua Town on the windward side of the island.  It's our first time on this side of the island and really our first extended stay on Oahu.  Most of our island visits have been to Maui or in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.  Kailua on Oahu is a great town.  Up until a few years ago, there wasn't much development, I can't say that now, but it still has the small town feel and the residents here are quick to befriend you and offer their aloha.

Today, we made plans to visit Pearl Harbor.  While in the Navy, I stopped at Pearl on our way to WestPac and our tour of duty supporting ground forces in Viet Nam.  But, I never did visit the memorial due to time constraints.   We didn't visit the Arizona Memorial or the USS Missouri this day either, but instead went to the fairly new Pacific Aviation Museum.  Only 10 years old, it is the newest of the museums on Ford Island.  Our guide Solomon, a native Hawaiian, was a retired teacher and worked at the shipyard for over 30 years before becoming one of the original tour guides at this museum.  His knowledge was amazing and the 90 minute guided tour seemed to last 10 minutes.

Missing panes of glass and bullet holes greet us at Hanger 79.

We were then sent off to visit Hanger 79 on our own.  There they are in the process of the restoration of many aircraft that have been donated.  The Swamp Ghost is one such plane.  Ditched by its pilot in 1942 on Papua New Guinea in a swamp when the plane ran out of fuel after taking a hit from a Japanese fighter that punchured a hole in the fuel cell, it sat for decades before being brought out piece by piece.  It now sits intact but unrestored in Hanger 79.  There is no plan to restore this craft.  The crew all survived and actually continued to serve and fight during the rest of the war.

The newly named Swamp Ghost, recovered from the swamps of Papua New Guinea.
The highlight of this tour was meeting a true hero, Dick Girocco.  A Pearl Harbor Survivor who was stationed on Ford Island as a crew member on a PBY, a flying boat used during WWII.  It was parked at Hanger 39, right next door to Hanger 79 on the infamous day.  He was gracious enough to allow Chris and I to take a picture with him.  Sitting next to Dick was Ian Birine, who was only 6 on Dec 7, 1941.  Ian, born and raised on Oahu, told us he remembered being excited to see so many airplanes in the sky over his house.  Little did he know.

Chris with Mr. Girocco and Ian Birine.

Trying to explain my emotions today is difficult.  Walking the tarmac and visualizing what happened that day was chilling.  The unbelievable loss of life and the shock of such an attack is not lost on me.  Having served onboard a ship, feeling a kinship with those sailors, soldiers and women who died and survived this attack and standing at ground zero with a living survivor made this a day I will never forget.