My Life at a Park with a Purpose
By: Edean Saito
Remembrance- Spring 2020 article
After almost 40 years at the USS Arizona Memorial, it’s time for me to retire and make way for the wonderful and exciting bright ideas of the much younger.
A brand new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center was built to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors who came each year to visit the USS Arizona Memorial and pay their respects for the fallen on
December 7, 1941. The National Park Service was now the new managers of such a noble Memorial and were hiring Park Rangers.
It all started on October 1, 1980. My first day as a National Park Ranger. We only had 9 days to prepare this new visitor center. Between interpretive skills training and a crash course in Pearl Harbor history, we prepared the printed tickets, park brochures, prepared the twin theaters for the new movie presentation, and learned how to work with the Navy crew driving the boats to and from the USS Arizona Memorial.
We were being trained to do interpretive talks in the theater, on the boats, and on the Memorial. With my Education and History background, I met all of the school groups, did interpretive talks in the empty room that would soon become the home of the USS Arizona Memorial Museum before escorting them out to the Memorial.
October 10, 1980 will always be a red letter day for me.
It was the grand opening of this new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and dedication ceremonies were planned. This was the official partnership of the management of the USS Arizona Memorial between the US Navy and the National Park Service.
In the morning, National Park Superintendent, Gary Cummins told me that I would be doing the first welcoming talk in the theater. It wasn’t until all the dignitaries invited to the dedication ceremony moved from the back lawn of the visitor center to the theater that I realized that this was not the general public group of people that I would be talking to. My audience consisted of the heads of each military branch in Hawaii, State officials, which included Governor George Ariyoshi, Congressional Delegates, United States Senators Daniel Inouye and Sparky Matsunaga, Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, and many others. However, the most notable person for me was RADM Issac C. Kidd Jr., son of RADM Issac C. Kidd who was killed on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.
Throughout my season as a Ranger, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting many celebrities but the most honorable were the Survivors from the attack on December 7, 1941. For some, the visit to the USS Arizona Memorial was a difficult one. They had friends who were killed on that fateful day. For some, this was their first time returning back to Pearl Harbor since the war ended. I’ve always been the inquisitive one and prompted many conversations with these veterans and like a sponge, listened to their stories and absorbed all they were willing to share of their experiences. I talked to several of our local Pearl Harbor Survivors and asked them if they were willing to share their stories with the many visitors who also came to learn more and pay their respects. Our first set of National Park Volunteers were Pearl Harbor Survivors.
When my season ended as a Park Ranger in June 1981, I was invited to join the staff of the not for profit cooperating association, the Arizona Memorial Museum Association. I’ve been with this organization since then. Our name was changed to Pacific Historic Parks and my roles have changed over the years within the organization but I am very humbled to have been given such a great opportunity to do all the wonderful things that I love to do and to continue to support the Pearl Harbor Survivors and World War II veterans.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to help this organization grow from one park to five parks. It all started at the USS Arizona Memorial, then we added Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai, War in the Pacific National Historical Park on Guam, American Memorial Park on Saipan, and Diamond Head State Monument on Oahu. There’s still more in store for Pacific Historic Parks.
As long as there’s a living World War II veteran, I feel that we should do whatever we can to make them feel honored. I love them. They made the greatest sacrifice for the longest period of time. These men and women are the greatest generation. They’re the reason why we have so many freedoms today. They’re also known as the greatest generation because of what they did after the war, built up the economy and created the great nation that we have now.
Now, it’s our duty to honor them and inspire our future generations. We can do this by continuing to collect their stories and making them available for all.
• By creating innovative ways to teach and inspire our youth.
• By creating innovative ways to share their stories.
• By honoring them in our communications and in our ceremonies.
Although I am no longer an employee of Pacific Historic Parks, I will continue to honor the Greatest Generation, all other veterans, and those who continue to fight for the freedom we have today and hope that you will too.