I never thought I’d be sitting here writing a post on this. Now that I think about it, back then I never thought the possibility existed. I’ve rummaged through my dive logs for a while now and feared the worse. When I was diving, I was very diligent about logging everything. Luckily I also had a back up system, my dive watch, which I did manage to find.
March 7, 1998, was my day to experience a piece of history. I was working at a local dive shop in Pearl City, Hawaii. I was there all day, because we were having one of those big blow out sales on dive equipment, etc. I can’t remember exactly, if it was due to excess inventory or downsizing; I guess it really doesn’t matter.
We were really busy, when a friend of mine came in. Ken worked part-time in the dive shop with me and he was also in the Navy, working E.O.D. At first I just thought he stopped by to say hi and see how things were going, well that wasn’t the case. “Someone” asked him for a favor and needed to retrieve a ramp that had fallen into the water at the Arizona Memorial. They use these as a walk way of sorts for the visitors that come on/off the boats at the memorial, and Ken needed a safety diver to go with him. I don’t know why he asked me, considering I was relatively new to diving, though I was a qualified rescue diver. Anyway, I was very, very, did I say very excited to do it, and work or no work I was filling up one of my tanks, grabbing my gear and was going!
It was a short drive, though it seemed like forever. Just walking from the truck with a BCD/tank and gear to the entrance was kind of nerve-racking. This was only my 54th dive, so yes I was nervous, excited, anxious, you name it. Ken went over the safety rope signals with me once we got on the boat and arrived at the actual site of the memorial.
The plan was he would go down first, find the plank and tie it off with one of the ropes, in the meantime I would stay topside and make sure nothing went wrong. He was probably in the water about 10-15 minutes or so, and then there was a tug to let me know he was coming up. He finally found it and tied it off. Then it was my turn to go down and “make sure it looked good.”
(16:50): So there I went slowly down the line… From this point forward I can only tell you what I saw and felt. It was very murky, with sediment floating everywhere. A yellowish tint to the water because there was still light at that depth. My gauge bottomed out at 33 feet when I swam around the first and then the second concrete pillar. The sound coming from my regulator seemed louder; the breathing, inhaling and exhaling. I did look behind me a few times but visibility was very bad. Just siting here writing this, I get a chill, remembering when the outline of the USS Arizona came into a hazy outline. Did I touch it, or even attempt to reach out….no I didn’t. It wasn’t right. I had thought about it on the drive over, but I couldn’t. For the few minutes I spent there, looking at the tangled wreck covered in years of growth is something I will never forget! Exactly 13 minutes of bottom time, my dive watch indicated, when I climbed up and out of the water on the opposite side of landing. Ken asked me how it was. I can’t explain it, I was speechless, in awe, emotional everything in one. In some crazy way I was a piece of history that day too.
After we finished hauling up the “walkway” there was time left before the boat came back to pick us up. I needed that time to myself. I went and leaned over the railing and looked down at one of the stacks, and the water and just started crying. It all hit me at once, all those names on the wall, those poor men stuck inside, that horrible day. All I could say was sorry. It wasn’t my first time visiting the Arizona, but it was very different. There is a saying or story about the memorial, that the oil will continue to leak until the last survivor dies. How true that is, I don’t know. What I can tell you with certainty is that the smell of oil remained on my wetsuit for at least a month after that day; and I washed and washed it.
I know the Arizona Memorial was built in memory of the final resting spot of those men. I wish I could say it felt like a peaceful place to me, but it never has. I hope maybe, just maybe someday, all those spirits will find their way home…. Kat~