The droplets are referred to as “the Black Tears of the Arizona.” They began shortly after the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a day that has lived in infamy.
And as I stood over the gravesite of 1,177 American men I had never met, the black tears moved me deeply.
My family and I visited the memorial on a recent trip to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when we arrived. One of the first things our bus driver, an older gentleman who hailed from Memphis, told us about was a huge anchor located behind us.
When the Arizona was attacked, it had approximately one million pounds of ammunition on board. When torpedoes struck the battleship, the ammunition caused a cataclysmic explosion. The blast was so large that it blew the 10-ton anchor a quarter of a mile away.
Standing in front of the anchor, the Arizona memorial lurking in the background, I felt very humbled. That feeling would become stronger the longer I stayed at the harbor, a feeling I had when I walked among the memorials in Washington, D.C.
Reading about the events that day produced a number of feelings inside me. One of the first, and most unexpected, was anger. Anger the attacks happened, anger so many young men had lost their lives, anger at the Japanese for attempting diplomatic relations with the United States while secretly plotting an attack.
Anger quickly faded and was replaced by a deep sadness. Reading the names of civilians who lost their lives that day, including a number of children younger than my daughter, and all those brave sailors who died on the other battleships tore my heart into pieces. Most were far younger than I am.
After touring the museum, we made our way into a movie theater to watch about the events leading up to that infamous day. By the end, tears were streaming down my face. We walked out of the dark theater into the bright sunlight and boarded a ferry which would take us to the USS Arizona Memorial.
Young enlisted men, looking dapper in their uniforms, drove us there. I could not help but think these young men would have looked similar to the young men killed onboard the Arizona that day.
We stepped off the ferry and made our way up the ramp leading into the memorial. The first thing to hit me was the smell of motor oil. It was deep and heavy. And present all over the surface of the water under the memorial.
Parts of the ship, brown and rusted with time, stuck out of the water. A ranger with the National Park Service was explaining to visitors about the attack and the black tears. He said survivors of the attack, five of whom are still alive today, believe the tears will stop once they all pass away. But the ranger said many thousands of gallons of oil are still trapped in the ship and will most likely leak for years to come.
He spoke over a hole in the memorial, which showed parts of the Arizona covered in brightly colored coral. Behind the hole, a wall. Covered from top to bottom with names, all who lost their lives that day. It was striking.
It was impossible to read them all. Many visitors were silent as they took in the magnitude of the death toll from the attack. So many names.
We made our way out and stood on the other side of the memorial to await the return of another ferry. While standing there, I saw the droplets of oil float to the surface. The actual black tears. I watched as they trickled heavenward, away from the scene of so much death and destruction.
Wishing the men entombed beneath my feet could have been as lucky.
Nick Shepherd is the Scott County beat reporter for the Kingsport Times-News. He can be reached at [email protected]