Don Woodard: Here comes the sun, making history in Hawaii

In his best seller masterpiece, At Dawn We Slept, Gordon W. Prange recorded the long-range, meticulous planning that went into the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941:

“A cold, sullen dawn stole over Hitokappu Bay on Wednesday, November 26. Low clouds hung from a leaden sky. Snow spilled to earth and swirled over the surface of the water, so that each ship saw her neighbor only as a gray, indistinct shape in the semidarkness.

“Blinker signals stabbed through the eerie half light. Then at the stroke of 0600 – which was 1030 November 25 in Hawaii – decks and ladders thudded with the hurried steps of officers and men speeding to stations. Shouted orders pierced the air; the pull of giant chains sent cries of tortured steel across the bay. Huge turbines droned in the engine rooms as powerful propellers slashed the water. One by one, six aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, three submarines and seven tankers glided like ghost ships from their secluded rendezvous and plunged into the Pacific. Drab and homely, the tankers brought up the rear of the task force. But their importance far outweighed their lack of glamour because in their grubby holds they carried the lifeblood of Empire. Without them the proud First Air Fleet could never carry out its mission.”

Fast forward 74 years to another departure from Japan to Hawaii. On July 3, 2015, the Associated Press reported that an ungainly, very long-winged Ugly Duckling powered by the sun’s rays had landed at an airport just outside Honolulu after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific from Nagoya, Japan. Pilot Andre Borschberg and Swiss co-pilot Bertrand Piccard flew the Solar Impulse 2 without fuel. Instead, the AP reported, the plane’s wings were equipped with 17,000 solar cells that powered propellers and charged batteries; at night, the plane ran on stored energy. Borschberg called the flight an extraordinary experience, saying it marked historical firsts for aviation and for renewable energy.

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The Japanese fleet needed an ocean of oil to steam eleven days from Japan to Hawaii to make war on December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy. Andre Borschberg, 74 years later, using not a drop of oil, flew in peace from Japan to Hawaii in five days in an ungainly flying contraption, landing as it were – a tip of the hat to the Wright Brothers – at Kitty Hawk, Hawaii, on the eve of July 4, 2015, a date that may well live in history as the dawn on Earth of sun-powered Energy Independence Day. All Hail! Peace on Earth! No more wars for oil!

And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares, that infest the day,

Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,

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And as silently steal away.

(From The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman and author of Black Diamonds! Black Gold!: The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.