WWII Valor in the Pacific: 3D Filming at the USS Arizona Memorial

After an epically early flight from Medford, Oregon, I arrived in Honolulu, Oahu for the next phase of my internship. At the airport I met up with Brett Seymour, photographer for the SRC, and his trusty sidekick and VIP (Volunteer in Parks), Jim Koza. Koza spent more than 30 years working in and on water within the National Park Service and retired as the Park Dive Officer from Lake Mead National Recreation Area. He became involved with the SRC years ago when they first started dive ops at Lake Mead. Since then, he has become a trusted member of the team, and spends some of his retirement travelling around with the SRC crew to volunteer his time on field projects. I knew I was in for a great trip-everyone at the office had told me how much I would enjoy working with Brett and Koza. We made our way to Pearl Harbor Naval Base, where we would be spending the week, to get our base passes and check in to our housing.

After dealing with those logistics, we headed out to Pearl Harbor and the new visitors center for the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It includes the USS Arizona Memorial, along with the memorials for USS Utah and USS Oklahoma, commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 that initiated the U.S.’s involvement in World War II. USS Arizona was one of nine ships sunk during the attack, and represented the largest loss of life in U.S. Naval history. Only Arizona and Utah were too heavily damaged by the attacks and left submerged; the other ships were salvaged and repaired. USS Arizona is the source of a contentious, continual oil leak; approximately 500,000 gallons of crude oil remain within the ship, although only a few gallons seep out on a daily basis.

Our first task was to transport all of our gear for the week out to the Memorial, which is accessed via a free public ferry operated by the navy. We hauled several carts full of dive gear and hard cases packed with video equipment across the visitor’s center and loaded them onto the ferry, much to the curiosity of the visitors. It is a short ride across the harbor from the visitor’s center to the Memorial.

As the boat pulled up to the Memorial, I felt an unexpected surge of emotion. I actually tend to avoid war memorials. My family survived World War II, but in a different way then the Pearl Harbor Survivors. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I deeply appreciate the sacrifices of those who fought for their freedom, but growing up being constantly reminded of the horror and atrocities that afflicted my family has often made me shy away from things like war memorials and films. Walking into the USS Arizona Memorial, I could feel my eyes blurring and my face quivering…it was an incredibly powerful place. To be on the site of such devastation and terror, a final resting place for 1,177 lost lives, is to be in a state of introspection. I couldn’t help but wonder about the young sailors who fought for their lives on this exact spot, and whether they knew the global resonance of what happened that day. So many of them would never know that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t shatter the Pacific fleet (as was hoped by its orchestrators), but solidified America’s resolve to join the war with failure being an unacceptable option. That the subsequent actions of American and other Allied troops would ultimately lead to my own grandparents’ survival from the largest act of genocide committed in human history. I was especially aware, as I walked into the Memorial, that my own existence is due to the particular way that events unfolded in that war, and to the selfless sacrifices of so many. All these thoughts raced through my brain as I stood there, surrounded by visitors from all around the world who had come to pay their respects and witness this infamous battleground.

My introspection was a necessary divergence, but we were here to work. We had come to Pearl Harbor to film in 3D, to gather footage for use in education and outreach. We were joined by several people from different entities: Scott Pawlowski, Chief of cultural and natural resources at the park, Maryann Morin, Evan Kovacs, and Luis Lamar from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, and Dan Lenihan, the founder of the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, or SRCU Team which became the SRC. Dan snorkeled the site in 1982 at the request of the mangers of the newly formed USS Arizona Memorial, ran the subsequent site documentation and mapping operation from 1983-85, and is the individual who actually rewrote the corporate history of the site with the discovery of the #1 gun turret which is still in place on Arizona despite documented records from the aftermath of the bombing. Also on the production team were Lonnie Hubbard and Ryan Lummus from Ocean Technology Services, a long time partner of the SRC. The OTS guys delivered the custom built underwater communication system we would be using. After testing some gear in the pool, we met up with Scott and the crew from Woods Hole to do some filming on the model of the wreck that is housed inside the visitor’s center to provide viewers with perspective and a sense of place when viewing underwater footage of the same features. We spent the night panning, zooming, and reviewing as we took take after take after take of the model. I quickly learned that filming is much more time consuming then shooting still photos. Especially when filming in 3D! Not only do you have to worry about composition and lighting, but edge violations, intraocular distances, and I’m sure much, much, more. It was a very interesting process to observe, and I was curious to see how all this would be undertaken once we added the underwater element to the mix over the next few days.


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