TUG OF WAR

by Misty Corrales

A random note about what I remember about Hickam AFB. A lot of the buildings on the base are old — they were there when Pearl Harbor was attacked and there are a few with gunshot damage. Many of them are weird pastel colors… like, not pink but some kind of funky salmon color which isn’t quite salmon…or yellow, but not a bright sunny, pretty yellow. This yellow is like a butter (real butter, not margarine) color with a dash of color that has then faded. Our quarters on base were the pink color. There were also some bluish quarters. Basically, the colors were both pastel and dingy…not DIRTY mind you, just dingy by design. Despite that I’ve called some of those buildings dingy, they were not UGLY. Hickam is quite a beautiful base. There are a lot of trees, and some newer buildings (well, new in the 70s). There is a beach on the base as well. The back gate of Hickam actually connects to Pearl Harbor Naval Station, so we could go to Pearl Harbor very easily — and the naval personnel could easily come to Hickam. Hickam is the base I was at when I turned ten — so my first solo excursion to the BX was the Hickam BX. (At that BX was a blue dress that I tried on at least 15 times. I loved that dress. I never bought it. But I loved that dress.)

Our quarters were also, at the time, the nicest my dad had been given. It was a two story townhouse with a bathroom upstairs and a half bathroom downstairs. There was a great kitchen with pretty decent cabinetry, a living room and a dining room, hallway, laundry connections, a lanai and a covered front porch, and a storage area. They were bigger than what we had in Texas (prior station), which was a duplex. We had a front yard and a back yard. My dad had built me a little play house, and painted it to match the quarters. I think he also helped someone who lived in bluish to make one for their son. I think he did have to get permission to add it to our yard.

(I quite liked my play house! It had screened windows that I could open or close, counters and a door. I also had some nice curtains in it.)

We also had a plumeria tree (white with yellow centers) in our back yard, so I frequently made leis and things with it. A few doors down, one of our neighbors had a mango tree. He didn’t like us kids climbing his tree to get the mangos, but if they fell out of the tree, we were welcome to them. He’d also get us a mango if there were none on the ground, and all we had to do was ask. He just didn’t want us to get hurt. Most of the kids in our housing area were around the same age, some were younger, of course…the younger siblings — and it probably has to do with the rank associated with those quarters. What I remember most about this particular base housing area was the commaraderie in the neighborhood. We had cookouts. Our parents watched over one another.

And when a particularly disturbing thing was happening on the base, our parents literally took watch to guard our housing area at night. It’s one of those very rare occasions my parents did not try to shelter me.

So anyway, that’s Hickam. I hated moving there…but I quickly grew to love it and I hated leaving it even more.

When I was around 11, and I’m not sure if I was 10, 11, or 12 when this incident happened, my paternal grandparents came to visit. I called them Memo (pronouced Mah Maw) and Pa Paw (pronounced Pah Paw…they rhymed). One of the things that we usually did whenever we had family visits (and honestly? When we lived at Hickam, I saw more family than I had *ever* seen before. I met people I didn’t even know existed!) was to take a tour of Oahu, the island Hickam is on. It’s a long day trip, but it is still a day trip.

On this particular occasion, the beach we stopped at to walk along the sand was Makaha Beach. Pa Paw chose not to walk along the beach, so my mother stayed with him at a picnic table overlooking the area where they had a gorgeous view of the ocean. Pa Paw had had a stroke many years back, to the degree that I do not actually remember a time when he had full use of both arms. He used to be a carpenter, and he still made things. He also had a little trouble walking, and that’s why he decided not to walk the beach.

Memo and I went down to the sand with my dad, who decided to look for sea shells or something, so Memo and I were walking by ourselves. I noticed that if I pushed my feet into the sand while the wave was coming in, I could push my entire foot in really easily. So for some reason that day, I was doing just that. I’d never done it before.

I’ve done it every single time I’ve walked on a beach since that day.

Makaha Beach is known as a surfing beach. It’s actually known as a pretty dangerous beach to surf, and we were careful to look for signs before we even went down to the beach. Because of its reputation, I would never have gone swimming at Makaha. I’m not a strong enough swimmer to take on the tides there.

Still, walking along a beach hardly seems dangerous.

Unless you’re at Makaha.

As I said, I had been inexplicably burying my feet in the sand as we walked. And I was noticing that I was able to dig my feet in deeper and deeper with each step, which I was focusing on. Right until a giant wave came up and easily washed above my waist, knocking my grandmother off of her feet. When it pulled back, she had still not regained her footing. I had her hand as the ocean tried to pull her out. She could not stand because every time she tried, the waves would push her or pull her, and the water was getting deeper as the tide was coming in.

I held on, but I could not help her to stand. She was screaming at me to let go — and I knew that if I did, she’d be washed out with the tide and she would drown. I could feel the strength of the current. It was not the kind that you swim in. I also could feel how solidly I was rooted to the beach. While I held onto her, I had been digging my feet deeper into the sand, and by now I had buried my legs midway up the calf.

I was 11-ish, and small for my age. Many people at this time of my life mistook me for 6 or 7 years old. So I was small, fighting to hold on.

I was yelling for my dad. Between telling me to let her go, Memo was screaming for each of my uncles (now that I have four cats which I frequently call by the wrong names, I get that), but at the time it really struck me that my dad’s name was the very last one she called and I was hurt by it (only kid syndrome…it would never have occurred to me that someone would not be able to keep their kids’ names straight under normal circumstances much less in a crisis, and I was kind of angry that here I was, trying to keep her safe until that my dad could get to her and she was calling out everyone but him. But I still held on.) My mother was screaming from where she was, because there was nothing else she could do…no way she could possibly get there in time. My Memo had also let go of my hand, so I was holding onto her with no help. She did not want to pull me in. I am sure that she was just as worried about having her granddaughter drown in this mess as she was for her own safety.

This incident probably took three minutes to play out. But in my mind, my father took 20 minutes to get there. It was terrifying, knowing that I literally was holding my grandmother’s life in my hands. It did not even occur to me then that each moment I held on lessened my own chances of getting away from this suddenly monstrous beach, that had been calm only moments before.

I’m certain that my father would have tried to go save his mother if I had let go or been unable to hold on; however, I did not let go. I was in a tug of war with the Pacific Ocean and I was determined that this was one tug of war I was going to win!

My father helped my grandmother to her feet, and it was not easy. I refused to let go until everyone was secure. Just because he was there did not mean she was safe yet. I had to help. Then we struggled to get to the picnic area, which was off the beach and up a bit. My mother had been standing in that overlook area…a grassy bit hanging over the beach itself, as we found our way up, and just as we got there, a wave crashed so hard against the wall of sand below her, that she got wet.

My dad, Memo, and I used the obligatory shower provided at the beach to wash as much sand off of us as we could. She said that she had sand in places she didn’t even know existed.

After that, we just went home….having had quite enough adventures for one day.

My mother often tells stories about things that happened to us during my father’s service, many that I do not remember and which happened after this event … but I’ve never heard her talk about this one.

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