A Memorial Day to Remember
(June 6, 2011)
|PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (MCN - 5/30/2011) — On Memorial Day, I
was presented an offer I could not refuse and will never
forget, “Would you like to ring the bell for fallen
Marines?” How could I say no?
USMC Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill, at right, salutes alongside Pearl Harbor attack survivors during a bell ringing ceremony at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument May 30,
2011. He was asked to join the survivors and
toll the bell for fallen Marines in front of a
crowd of about 100 people. The bell was
recovered from the wreckage of the USS Arizona,
which was destroyed in the 1941 Japanese attack.
(Photo courtesy of Ray Sandla, Pacific Historic
Early May 30 I visited the USS Arizona Memorial, now
officially known as the World War II Valor in the Pacific
National Monument, thinking there would be a simple ceremony
to salute those who fell that December morning 69 years ago,
and others who gave their lives for their nation before and
since in battles around the world. |
Little did I know
I would become part of the ceremony in front of more than
100 people, standing alongside Pearl Harbor attack survivors
and receiving rounds of applause.
My wife and I
attended the flag raising at the memorial park at 8 a.m.,
watching a bugler play “To the Colors” as Old Glory was
hoisted and lowered to half-mast by national park rangers.
They then moved to raise each flag of the armed forces, but
some I didn't recognize. As the head ranger explained, the
park flies the historic service flags of each branch as they
were in 1941 during the Japanese attack.
course,” I thought and smiled to myself, “the colors of the
Marine Corps haven't changed a bit.”
at the crowd of tourists, local residents and cane-clutching
veterans, I was saddened when I realized I was the only
active duty service member in uniform on the island of Oahu,
out of roughly tens of thousands of military personnel
stationed here, who attended this ceremony on our national
day of remembrance.
After each flag was raised and
we walked back inside the main park, one of the rangers
noticed me in uniform and came over to ask if I would like
to take home a flag. I wasn't sure exactly what he meant
until he took a red Marine Corps flag from the bag he was
carrying. The ranger explained that it had flown at the
memorial park for months and, now faded by the Hawaiian sun,
they replaced it with a new one for the ceremony that
morning. I was humbled and didn't know what to do except
thank him profusely and give a beaming smile.
wife and I then roamed the park looking at the museums and
gift store and eventually making our way across the park for
the 8:30 bell ringing ceremony. The bell is large, probably
weighing hundreds of pounds, with the words “USS ARIZONA”
embossed into the metal. It was recovered by salvage divers
after the 1941 attack, and its sister bell now hangs at my
wife's alma mater, the University of Arizona in Tucson. I
noticed the pendulum had been attached for the ceremony,
something seldom done other than Memorial Day and Dec. 7.
Pearl Harbor survivors, two Army veterans and a Navy
corpsman, all three with their decorations of valor pinned
to their hats, were making their way alongside the bell for
the ceremony and more people crowded the seating area.
As we made our way to the rear of the seating area, the
head ranger walked over and asked me, “Would you like to
ring the bell for fallen Marines?” I was shocked, even more
than when I was presented the flag earlier. How could I not
take the opportunity to honor my fallen brothers- and
sisters-in-arms? But did I rate to stand next to heroes of
the Greatest Generation? Those who nearly 70 years ago
watched the very place we stood bombed and thousands perish?
I'm just a Marine who came here to watch.
encouragement of my wife, the ranger and even spectators
around me, I agreed, knowing I may never have the
opportunity to do something like this again. As I walked to
the front, each of the survivors and park rangers shook my
hand, welcoming and thanking me. I caught a glimpse of my
wife smiling from the crowd as she moved to a better angle
When they called everyone to
attention and began the ceremony, I hadn't been nervous like
that in a long time. I noticed more visitors had started to
gather behind us now, encircling the bell at center stage.
The head ranger introduced each of us and explained that the
bell would toll for the fallen of the United States, the
State of Hawaii, and each branch of the armed forces.
“For the United States of America.” BONG! The long tone
of the first bell was deafening and most people jumped. One
of the veterans beside me quickly reached up and turned off
his hearing aids and I noticed the orange earplugs in the
bell ringer's ears. I saluted sharply, lowering my salute
slowly, matching the fading tone of the bell. As I lowered
my hand, I noticed the survivors had been watching me and
were following my lead.
“For the State of Hawaii.”
BONG! Again, the sound caught people off guard. By now,
people had bowed their heads, placed hats over their hearts
or were wiping tears. As I saluted again, the survivors
matched my movements in unison.
“Sergeant, if you
would,” the head ranger said, motioning to the bell as the
other ranger stepped aside. I took a deep breath and marched
to position, placing my hand on the rope of the heavy
pendulum. As I waited the short moment for my cue, I
reflected on much — members of my family who have passed
away, high school friends lost to senseless violence, and
fellow Marines, especially the five of 1st Battalion, 3rd
Marine Regiment, with whom I served in Afghanistan and
helped prepare their memorial services.
United States Marine Corps.” I gave a sharp and terrific tug
on the rope and the pendulum sharply struck the bell louder
than before. BONG! The blast stunned me for split second,
but I quickly centered the pendulum and released the rope to
render another crisp salute.
As I faced about and
returned to my place in line, I expected each of the Pearl
Harbor survivors to do the same in turn, but the park ranger
returned to his position at the bell and the veterans stood
fast. While the bell tolled four more times, I saluted in
sync with them, but was lost in my thoughts. I was the only
one who actually rung the bell that morning, one of the few
who ever has. All because I woke up early and wore my
uniform. For the third time that morning, I was deeply
After the ceremony, my wife and I boarded
the shuttle boat to visit the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl
Harbor, which I have visited previously, but never on a
holiday. It had a different and more somber atmosphere than
usual, but I could not help but think of my experience
earlier as I looked at the Marine Corps flag in my hand. I
felt like I was a part of history that day, and I will look
back proudly on this memory for a long time.
Article and photo by USMC Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill|
Marine Corps Base Hawaii – Kaneohe Bay
Marine Corps News
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