Battleship honored 63 years after Pearl Harbor attack
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – Sixty-three years after the sneak attack that plunged the United States into World War II, hundreds of men who died aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma are finally getting their own special tribute.
“It’s about time,” said Oklahoma survivor George Smith, 80, of Tenino, Wash.
A new exhibit of photos, artifacts and oral histories was unveiled Monday to honor the 429 men from the Oklahoma who died in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. That is the second-highest number of Pearl Harbor casualties behind the USS Arizona, where most of its 1,177 crewmen killed in the attack remain entombed.
The anniversary also will be marked with simultaneous ceremonies Tuesday aboard the Arizona Memorial above that sunken battleship, and on shore at the National Park Service’s visitors center. Each ceremony was to feature a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. – the minute the attack started.
While the better-known Arizona has a gleaming white memorial straddling its hull, the Oklahoma has gone largely unrecognized over the years.
On Monday, Paul Goodyear, head of the USS Oklahoma Survivors Association, joined Smith, other survivors and about two dozen friends and family for the exhibit’s unveiling at the USS Arizona Memorial museum and visitors center.
The exhibit depicts the battleship’s history, and a graphic shows how the ship rolled over after being struck by the Japanese torpedoes. Photos of many of the young crewmen border the exhibit panels.
The new Oklahoma exhibit will be opened to the public on Tuesday.
Goodyear, who organizes an annual USS Oklahoma reunion, had lobbied for the exhibit at the Oklahoma state capitol earlier this year.
“The youngest of our survivors is already 80,” he said then. “If we don’t do this now, these men will be completely forgotten. Is that the way we thank them for their supreme sacrifice they made for this country?”
Goodyear was a 23-year-old petty officer 3rd Class in 1941 whose life was saved when someone threw him a line from the USS Maryland and he was able to pull himself up just as the Oklahoma rolled over.
The other Oklahoma survivors attending were George Brown, Edward Vezey and Jerry Tessaro.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Smith, at 17 the youngest sailor aboard the Oklahoma, jumped into the burning oil-covered water of Pearl Harbor after a second torpedo struck the vessel. He saw the 27,500 ton battleship roll over as he swam to nearby Ford Island.
The Oklahoma was torpedoed several times and capsized within 12 minutes, trapping hundreds of men below the decks. Thirty-two crew members were saved two days later when fellow sailors cut the hull open.
When it sank, the Oklahoma was anchored off Ford Island on Battleship Row in the middle of the harbor, next to the USS Maryland. The Oklahoma took the brunt of the torpedoes, leaving the Maryland relatively intact.
The Oklahoma was refloated in 1943 and sold for scrap after the war, but it sank in the Pacific while being towed to California.
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other military bases on Oahu lasted two hours. Twenty-one ships were heavily damaged, and 320 aircraft were damaged or destroyed. In all, about 2,390 people were killed and about 1,178 were wounded, according to the National Park Service, which maintains the Arizona site.
On the Net:
USS Arizona Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/usar
Pearl Harbor Survivors Association: http://members.aol.com/phsasecy97/