Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reflections on History and the War in the Pacific

USS Iowa BB-61

May 14, 15 2011 Chino, Ca

SS Lane Victory

Fort MacArthur Battery Osgood-Farley

Over the past couple of weeks, as my work load permits, I have been engrossed in time travel back to the waters off Guadalcanal with exotic sounding names like the Sealark Channel, Cape Esperance and the waters off Savo Island, where over a period of 116 days the United States Navy fought seven major naval battles with the Imperial Japanese Navy. The conveyance of my travel was the superb account, Neptune's Inferno by author James D Hornfischer who is turning out to be this generation's Samuel Elliot Morison for his vivid and moving accounts of the United States Navy in the Pacific.

This brings me to the subject of this post. For most Americans today, World War II is fast fading into the rearview mirror as veterans pass from our midst and history in general is thought to be treated as no longer relevant in a world where things are moving fast forward. Even the United States Army is considering closing their Army Heritage Education Center. History has been modified and marginalized in many colleges and universities where the focus is on teaching management and social skills before reflection on what history has to teach us about ourselves. My personal experiences in both teaching history and in being approached by people in my personal life has reinforced my belief that people have an innate desire to know about the events and experiences of those who came before them. It is in that vein that I want to share some of the great sites around Southern California that offer opportunities to learn about World War II.

For those wanting to experience what it was like to be a pilot in World War II, a short journey east of Los Angeles will bring one to Planes of Fame Air Museum where dozens of aircraft are on display and each May sees an excellent Air Show which this year is dedicated to 100 years of Naval Aviation.

San Pedro a community aside the Port of Los Angeles is already home to the SS Lane Victory a fully functional World War II victory ship and the Fort MacArthur Museum at Battery Osgood-Farley. It appears that this fine duo of historical sites is soon to be joined by what should be the crown jewel of World War II historical museums on the West Coast the battleship USS Iowa BB-61. Currently all is in place and awaiting the Navy's decision on where the ship will be located. The benefits to both visitors and for local schools will be a legacy to those who left these local waters and sailed into harms way. My family has a personal reason for supporting this project. My father met my mother at a USO dance when his ship the USS Zeilin AP-3 was being repaired after an encounter with a few Japanese bombers the day before Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Finally, across the bay on the Long Beach side lies the majestic Queen Mary who's wartime service saw her carrying whole divisions across the Atlantic in preparation of the invasion of Europe.

So if all goes according to plan, the Summer of 2011 will find San Pedro a target rich environment for learning about the history of the Pacific War. Reflecting on the war this way offers a person the opportunity to gain some insight on the experience of the sailor and soldier and what they felt as they stood at their stations or maned their guns or in the cockpit. The lessons of duty and courage are enshrined in the decks of these ships and in the sound of the engines of those planes that take to the air every May to honor those who willingly put their futures on the line so that others might live. We will always own these men and women our lives and the lives of all who come after us.

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