Pearl Harbor Day – A Different Perspective

This is by my friend and former acting colleague Ken Parham, who also served in the Coast Guard in Alaska when I was stationed up there in the Army in the late ’80’s.  Ken and I did a number of stage performances (“Arsenic and Old Lace” is one.  I was Mortimer — he was Teddy.) together up there and met up again in LA as union actors in the early ’90’s.  

Anyway, Ken posted this on Facebook and I thought it was worth reposting here.  This is a great story written by a great guy.  Thanks, Ken, for allowing me to republish this.

KenParhamWhen my ship would go for “refresher training” at Pearl Harbor, we passed by the USS ARIZONA twice a day, going into & out of Pearl Harbor. We passed so close that we could see amazing details of the ship that you couldn’t see from the Memorial. When we passed-by, our ship “rendered honors”. Most of our crew would “man the rail”. Maybe you’ve seen this on tv when Navy ships return from a long deployment; the crew is on-deck, lined up at intervals along the perimeter of the ship. When rendering honors to the ARIZONA, the crew lines ups at intervals on the side closest to the Memorial, preparing to salute.

Right before we start passing-by, the flags are “dipped” – or, lowered. A person blows the whistle over the ship’s P.A. system to come to attention; another whistle for saluting; another whistle for dropping the salute; and a final whistle to “carry on” once past the Memorial.

It is an incredibly solemn and highly, highly emotional experience. Even the “crustiest of Old Salts” are brought to tears. Well, *I* was the one who blew the whistle from the bridge of the ship. I didn’t want to. I did everything I could to get out of the job. Why? Because I was a “basket-case” when we passed the ARIZONA. Sometimes SOBBING (as I’m prone to do & am apparently not ashamed of).

Years later, my Commanding Officer, who became my drinkin’ buddy, told me he gave me the job because I was such a practical joker. He wasn’t making light of the solemnness & seriousness of the respect to be rendered to the ARIZONA, but this was payback for my putting one of those Hawaiian frogs in his shower. If you haven’t seen them, they’re just about as big as a manhole cover. I only did it because I heard he was afraid of frogs. He went on to say that he wanted to see me “get serious” for a few moments, along with seeing if I could do it “without weeping”. I could not.

Well, I KINDA could…sometimes.

You know how when a child is in its final whimpers from crying? Well, put a WHISTLE in that child’s mouth and see how it sounds. I sounded like a drunk Irish referee at a soccer game. I might as well been blowing a clown’s slide whistle. I learned early on to keep the whistle from my face until I was going to use it. A whistle doesn’t do so well when it’s full of tears. One time I even blew a snot-bubble with it.

I also learned to keep the whistle WITH me the entire time we were in Hawaii. The snot bubble gave my buddies on the bridge the idea to put a little drop of liquid dishwashing soap into the whistle. There’s nothing worse than trying to blow a whistle during a solemn event when you’re crying/laughing at bubbles on the bridge…

I somehow know that if they were alive, the sailors on the ARIZONA would find bubbles coming out of the ship’s whistle hilarious…unfortunately, they gave their all for our country…


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