The Pearl Harbor Memorial is littered with errors. This naval vet is trying to fix them.
Cook 3rd Class Doris Miller is an American heroine, the first black sailor shirt to receive the Navy Cross.
On December 7, 1941, under fire, he helped secure the commanding officer of the fatally injured battleship West Virginia, then piloted a machine gun – a weapon he was not allowed to train with due to his race – to shoot the plane attack.
A sign at the visitor’s center at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial indicates that Miller died on the USS Liscombe Bay in 1944 during the Battle of the Gulf of Leyte.
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Miller actually died the year before, in 1943, on the USS Liscome Bay, at the Battle of Makin Island.
The mistake about a civil rights icon whose name will adorn a future Ford-class aircraft carrier is one of many mistakes at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial that has historians and history buffs mad .
At least one is working to fix them.
“I’ve been looking at this windmill since 2013,” said former Navy aviator and retired Captain Charlie Gillman. “How many thousand people must see these things and they are wrong?” “
In addition to Miller’s blunder, there are errors in the photos: a 1941 photo of a Navy PBY Catalina aircraft dated 1943 and a photo of the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku from the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1942 which is mislabeled as the Akagi, taken on December 7, 1941.
Some photos lack captions; others are mislabeled or do not properly illustrate the display. And the USS Arizona Memorial Wall contains five names that don’t have ranks or rates.
“What does it take for these guys to fix these things?” Gillman asked in an interview with Military.com. “If they asked for money, maybe they think they are blaming themselves for messing it up at taxpayers’ expense.”
The distinctive USS Arizona Memorial opened to visitors in 1962. Twenty years later, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, operated by the National Park Service, opened. But the current mistakes were introduced into renovations that took place between 2008 and 2010, according to Gillman and historians who have visited the park.
Mike Wenger, who has written a series of books on the attack on Pearl Harbor for the Naval Institute Press, says mistakes can occur for a number of reasons, the first being that the subject is extremely complex.
“The documents and photographs in the archives, a lot of them don’t have proper context. And you need to know a lot about the event to be able to interpret them properly,” Wenger told Military.com.
Sometimes there is too much information, he added, making it difficult to verify “little information”.
And finally, many parks and museums simply do not have military historians on staff who can oversee every detail of the exhibits and collections.
“A lot of these decisions – material selection and material interpretation – are sometimes made by a committee… and it rarely works,” Wenger said.
Emily Pruett, public affairs manager for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, said the National Park Service is aware of the issues and Superintendent Tom Leatherman, who took over in October, intends to “tackle the problem. to errors “.
She added that Leatherman met with Gillman on November 5 and planned to research what he identified as problematic and make any necessary corrections.
However, she said, the park service does not have “a definitive schedule or cost estimate for the updates at this time.”
The park has had its share of problems. He has suffered from high turnover at the superintendent level, with four acting superintendents since 2020.
In 2018, the National Park Service closed the USS Arizona Memorial for a major renovation to stabilize the monument’s dock system and improve infrastructure – a $ 2.1 million renovation that was completed in 2019.
Gillman thinks the musical chairs and lack of funding have left him woefully neglected.
He wrote to his representatives in Congress and the Home Secretary to have the errors corrected. He has lobbied all of the park’s superintendents and is hopeful that Leatherman will be the man to make the changes.
He also set his sights on a bigger effort – to get more money allocated to the park.
Gillman would like to see the interpretive spaces at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial expanded to accommodate a National Park Service warehouse full of artifacts and materials that are not accessible to the public.
The expansion would not require any new construction, he says, because the park department owned a series of buildings on Ford Island a decade ago, the Chief Petty Officers Bungalows, located not far from the memorials of the battleships Oklahoma and Utah.
The century-old homes overlook Battleship Row, “where Sailors and Marines swam ashore through flaming oil to safety,” said Gillman.
“From the water’s edge you can look up and down and see where 12 medals of honor have been earned,” said Gillman.
Pruett said the National Park Service is prioritizing projects such as repairing the shore dock so that visitors continue to have access to the USS Arizona memorial, as well as presenting the history of the war. in the Pacific.
She added that “all options for the rehabilitation of the bungalows are being considered”.
The National Park Service and Pacific Historic Parks are planning to hold events Dec. 5-9 to mark the 80th anniversary of the attacks, which killed 2,390 Americans. Details are available on the park’s website.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the year the USS Arizona Memorial opened.
– Patricia Kime can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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