Sequester questions troubling

There are some places that you visit that seem to be much more moving than you could have ever imagined.

For me, one of those places is the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

It’s a place to reflect, and to remember, remember the 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched their sneak attack on the naval base that was part of the then-Territory of Hawaii. A bomb that hit the forward section of the Arizona ignited the forward munition magazine, which led to an explosion that sank the battleship in nine minutes.

We vowed at the time that we, as a nation, would never forget.

Helping to ensure that is the 184-foot long memorial that straddles the mid-portion of the battleship. You can only get to the memorial by boat, and once there, it’s impossible not to be touched by the realization that you are standing over a sacred area, a feeling reinforced by the plaques that bear the names of the sailors and Marines who died in that attack, as well as those who survived but who have chosen to have their remains interred at the site.

It’s a place I was honored to visit to the morning of April 26.

Estimates are that there are more than 4,000 visitors each day to the memorial, which is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which is overseen by the National Park Service. You need a ticket with a specific time to take the short trip from shore to the memorial, which limits the number of people who can view the memorial each day.

Sadly, the number of tickets that are available – and the number of those who can experience the memorial and pay their respects – has been cut. Up until March 5, tours to the memorial ran from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since March 6, however, the last public tour offered is at 1 p.m.

The reason – the sequester.

I’m not kidding, the reason is the cuts in federal spending that have been put in place while members of Congress and the president work out budget details.

I and the people I was traveling with first learned about that change from a guide on one of the open-air, double-decker tour buses that make travel on the Hawaiian island of Oahu fairly simple. We had noticed that through a couple of transfers his company could get you to Pearl Harbor.

“Here’s the thing,” our guide said as the bus we were on wound its way through downtown Honolulu. “What’s the thing everyone wants to see at Pearl Harbor? It’s the Arizona. But our government’s out of money, and where do they make cuts …?”

He added that his company couldn’t get us to Pearl Harbor much before 10 a.m., and by that time all of the tickets for that day would have been distributed. He suggested booking a trip with one of the companies that contracted for tickets, which we did.

Our trip to Pearl Harbor went off with no problems, but I have to think there are some people who may have missed out on what could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the memorial because politicians can’t figure out a way to pay the bills.

After arriving home last week, I went online to confirm that information, and there it was, very sterile, very matter-of-fact: “Due to sequestration budget impacts, the National Park Service will delay filling key positions in visitor services. This will have an immediate impact on the hours of operation at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the number of tours offered daily to the USS Arizona Memorial.”

What does it say about our nation when we openly admit that we can no longer afford to mourn our dead, when the opportunity to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country is limited by an arbitrary budget cut?

It’s troubling, to say the least, and something we all need to think about during the next several months as the debate over the way our government spends our money continues.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is the executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)