Pearl Harbor visit impacts team

The trip to Hawaii was scheduled as a reward for the players enduring a long season without going to any bowl game. <br><br>But before the Tide took the field against Hawaii, the only thing other than the field and hotel that the players were able to see was the Pearl Harbor exhibit.

The memorial was built in 1962 to honor the 1,177 crewmen who died aboard the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Each year, 1.5 million visitors make the pilgrimage to the Arizona Memorial. It is the number one visitor attraction in Hawaii.

Despite scheduling problems, Dennis Franchione was determined his team would make the trip to Pearl Harbor. (photo by Kent Gidley, UA)

Bama's weekend visit to Hawaii marked the third time Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione had taken a team to the islands. And each time he has scheduled a visit to the memorial. "Friday morning we have always gone to the Pearl Harbor exhibit and that's been a great team-building exercise," Franchione explained, "a very meaningful part of the trip for our team. And then somewhere around Friday afternoon we start getting focused and ready to play the football game."

"This is something really, really special and makes me realize how fortunate we all are," was senior center Alonzo Ephraim's comment following the visit. "A lot of heroes sacrificed their lives here. This really makes you think and realize how blessed we really are today."

Finus Gaston, Alabama's Senior Associate Athletics Director, explained that Tide officials began organizing this trip back in June. Visiting the memorial the day after Thanksgiving was not easy, but the National Parks Service of Hawaii helped make special arrangements.

Freshman cornerback Charley Peprah described the visit. "I was speechless," he recalled. "Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial are a big part of United States history. What happened here that day was much like 9/11 (Sept. 11) last year. That was a great tragedy and helps me realize how tragic and important this is to the history of our great country. This changed America forever."

The USS Arizona Memorial located at Pearl Harbor Hawaii, is an enclosed bridge which spans the hull of the sunken USS Arizona. The hull resting on the bottom of the harbor is visible in this photograph. (Photographer: John Wagner. Courtesy Impact)

Visitors are shuttled by ferry from the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center in Pearl Harbor, to the Memorial's floating dock. The sunken battleship is viewed from a 184 foot-long memorial structure that spans its mid-portion. No part of the edifice touches the ship.

A thin film of oil continues to seep up from the wreckage to this day.

Senior safety Waine Bacon was glad the team made the trip. "I really learned a lot," he explained afterwards. "It was a great educational experience for me and gives me a new outlook on life and the history of our nation. I was not really sure what to think and I certainly did not think the visit would be this overwhelming. This is a great exhibit to teach people like me about Pearl Harbor. This is a great way to learn about United States history."

Because of the holidays, the Tide's visit was arranged with help from Alabama Senator Richard Shelby's office. Mechanical problems on the charter flight over delayed the team's arrival, destroying Bama's carefully planned schedule. But after a hastily arranged Friday practice at the stadium, Franchione made certain the team visited the Arizona Memorial after lunch--before beginning his team's normal Friday game-weekend routine.

"This trip puts into perspective the things that are really important in life," was sophomore Justin Smiley's comment. "We have football and school, but this makes you get your priorities straight. I did not know what to expect, but this is a beautiful place. I saw the movie Pearl Harbor and had seen pictures and clips on television--but to actually walk around the museum and step onto the Arizona Memorial is really an amazing feeling."

The forward superstructure and Number Two 14-inch gun turret of the sunken USS Arizona afire after the attack. Caught completely by surprise, America's Pacific fleet (with the exception of its aircraft carriers) was decimated by the Japanese attack, which started WWII for the United States.

The names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall in the Shrine Room at the eastern end of the Memorial. Standing at the rail of the floating dock, the Crimson Tide players were able to see clearly the hull of the sunken battleship, which still entombs 1,177 bodies of US servicemen killed when the big ship went down.

"To see all the names on the Arizona Memorial and to know that some of the bodies are still under water is a tough feeling," Peprah said. "To see this, gives me a sense of pride as an American, but an eerie feeling, too. The best part is we did not slow down as a nation. It made us stronger.

"I am glad that I was able to come to Hawai'i and see Pearl Harbor. This was an experience of a lifetime for me."

As a special tribute to the ship and her lost crew, the United States flag flies from the flagpole, which is attached to the severed mainmast of the sunken battleship. The USS Arizona Memorial has come to commemorate all military personnel killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.

Charlie Peprah (right) takes Hirchel Bolden's picture at the memorial. (photo by Kent Gidley, UA)

Bacon commented, "This is very special. Many people lost their lives here in a tragic way, while fighting for our country. This gives me a whole different perspective on life. This is the most in depth I have ever learned about Pearl Harbor. I did not really understand what really happened here."

The following day, Alabama finished up a highly successful 10-win season with a 21-16 victory over home-standing Hawaii. And of course the players will spent Sunday and Monday enjoying the spectacular island scenery.

But Friday afternoon's trip to Pearl Harbor will not be forgotten. "(When I first stepped onto the Arizona Memorial), I was shocked," Ephraim explained that afternoon. "I had seen pictures, movies and TV clips, but that is not real. This here today is very real. I am very amazed and thankful for what I saw here today."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The National Parks Service of Hawaii contributed to this report.

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