Pacific Command to Send USS Arizona Memorial Flag to Pentagon
By Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA
National Guard Bureau
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, Sept. 27, 2001 The men and women of the U.S. Pacific Command here shared an instant emotional connection with Pentagon personnel when a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon Sept. 11.
Nearly 6,000 miles from Washington, D.C., Pacific Command shares a direct historical connection to the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pearl Harbor represented what was the most deadly enemy attack on American soil.
Sailors raise an American flag over the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The flag flew Sept. 18 in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon. Adm. Dennis C. Blair, commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Command, is scheduled to carry the flag to Washington and present it to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on behalf of the men and women serving in the Pacific theater. U.S. Pacific Command Photo.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Because of those bonds, several Pacific Command staff members thought it fitting to show their support in light of this devastating attack. When Pacific Command Commander in Chief Adm. Dennis C. Blair and other members of his staff visit Washington next week, they hope, on behalf of the men and women of Pacific Command, to present the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry Shelton, with an American flag flown over the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
"Until September 11, the men and women who worked and served near Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base, (Marine Corps Base) Kaneohe, Schofield (Barracks) and Wheeler (Army Airfield) were really the only Americans with constant reminders that our nation was truly vulnerable to foreign attack. Now unfortunately, we all have them," Blair said.
The battleship USS Arizona rests at the bottom of Pearl Harbor in 38 feet of water, sunk in the Dec. 7 attack when a Japanese bomb slammed through its deck and ignited the forward ammunition magazine. In less than nine minutes, the ship sank with 1,177 of its crew.
A memorial was built over the sunken ship. The flag Blair will carry flew over the memorial on Sept. 18, one week after the attacks in New York and Washington.
For Pacific Command's senior enlisted adviser, Army Sgt. Maj. Frank Raby, the acts of terrorism hit closer to home than for most. He'd just arrived from a tour in the Army's Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, one of the offices hardest hit in the attack on the Pentagon. He knew 19 people who perished.
Raby said he was particularly close to Sgt. Maj. Larry Strickland, one of the victims. Acquaintances since they were corporals, they had been carpool buddies for nearly two years.
"It reinforces what's important in your life," Raby said. He said he's lost friends before -- unfortunately, losing people is oftentimes a part of military life. Now, a lot of people are being exposed to a great loss of life for the first time, he said, and they are realizing how petty some "important" things are.
The total number of persons unaccounted for or known dead at the Pentagon is 189, including the 64 passengers and crew aboard the hijacked airliner.
Raby said presenting a flag to the Pentagon is just small token of what Pacific Command is doing "in honor of our fallen service members at the Pentagon, and to let the chairman and other services know that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from Pacific Command have them in our thoughts and prayers. And also to let the chairman know that we're here and ready to do whatever mission we're needed to do."
The flag is the idea of Pacific Command civilian employee Jim Williams, who learned two days after the attacks that a friend of his was killed. He wanted to send a message to the people in Washington that they were on the minds of the people in Hawaii. The loss of a friend and his feeling of helplessness halfway around the world prompted him to suggest sending a flag flown over the Arizona Memorial
"I was just trying to capture what we were all feeling that day," Williams said. "It seemed appropriate to send a flag. We look at the Arizona Memorial every day when we drive down the hill, so it immediately came to mind."
When it came time to find a flag to fly, Raby and Senior Chief Petty Officer Ernesto Colorado, one of Blair's staff, bought one.
"I see it as a gift, a personal gift, to make sure the people at the Pentagon are aware that the other commands are also affected," Colorado said. "When 'they' hit the Pentagon, they didn't just hit a building, they hit the entire Department of Defense.
(Army Sgt. Bradley Rhen is assigned to the at U.S. Pacific Command Public Affairs Office, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.)