There’s a chain of islands in the South Pacific, a place of easy nights and tropical days. An island paradise where warm trade winds cause palm trees to sway and the rhythmic melody of the Hula provides the backdrop to the gentle, methodical movements of women in grass skirts as they glide to the sounds of the ukulele and the bongo.
Imagine for a moment that you are a seventeen-year- old Irish immigrant by the name of Sidney, Sidney Rush to be precise. A young man who has joined the United States Navy in hopes of finding a better life for himself and the woman he plans to marry. This island in the South Pacific is a stop over on your journey back to the states, a respite of sorts from the drudgery of life at sea. Your ship will be in port for a week and then off to Long Beach, California for needed repairs. Then it’s home for the holidays, Christmas dinner with loved ones and friends. Though until your ship sets sail, you stand watch, burn off steam and count the days.
It’s a warm December Saturday night, your first in port. Those with liberty plan to hit the town and blow through the few dollars they have in their pocket, those with duty stand watch and relish the thought of hearing the stories the following morning from those who were granted a respite from the daily grind. On this particular Saturday you’ve pulled duty and have been tasked to clean a seldom used hanger located on the harbor’s airfield. The sailor in charge of the hanger is a crusty old chief, a man of the sea who knows the ways of the Navy like the back of his hand, and has yet to see a dodge to get out of work that he hadn’t at one time or another tried to pull himself. His name is Bill Madison.
Your orders are to move a stack of crates from the far corner of the hangar to the opposite far corner of the hangar. Each crate is marked ‘International Relief Fund’ and there looks to be 50 or more of them, each of various size and shape, and all of which have been collecting dust in the corner of hangar 17 for as long as any could remember. The highest crate from the first stack is lifted by the forks of the lift you are driving, it is quickly placed in its new location and you return for another load. As you lift the second crate a vibrating jolt cause the crate to shift, and then crash to the deck with a thunderous boom. As the dust clears the scattered contents come clearly into view. Golden statues, jewelry, works of fine art, though most importantly to our two sailors working that night are the tray upon tray of $20.00 gold coins which now lay at their feet.
The realities quickly set in. One can only surmise that if the crates have been here for years and no one knew what was in them, then no one would ever notice if the contents of the crates were gone. The wheels of experience spin in Madison’s mind; The years of working through the maze of Navy red tape and confusion could finally work in his favor, and for once, just once, he finds himself thinking that he might just get one over on the U.S. Navy. They would need help, two men alone couldn’t do it, though with a third it was possible. And only one name comes to mind; Chief Boatswains Mate Bobby Briscoe, another old salt who can maneuver his way past any Navy regulation.
A fool proof plan is concocted; The art will be left behind, the coins, all five million dollars’ worth, will be loaded into ammo crates and moved to Briscoes’ ship, which will be leaving port in a week. Though getting 200 ammo crates moved from the hangar to the ship proves to be a bigger problem than planned, enter Chief Chuck Richter, the fast talking, huckster and proprietor of the Navy’s longest running crap game. Combined the three Chiefs can boast nearly sixty years of Navy experience, sixty years of bending the rules and making the system work in their favor. The perfect plan, a plan that will make each of them ‘Rockefeller Rich’, is set into motion.
But time is of the essence, for they’ve less than 10 hours before their watch ends, and unbeknownst to them the world that they know today will not exist tomorrow. For you see, the ship that they are loading their ill-gotten booty aboard is the U.S.S. Arizona, and off the coast of their island paradise sits a flotilla of the Imperial Japanese Navy. And at 0800 the next morning, as the sun breaks over the mountains of Hawaii and illuminates the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, the ‘Date Which will Live in Infamy’ will commence.