On December 7th, 1941, the United States suffered a tragic blow when a fleet of Japanese aircraft flew into Oahu’s airspace and launched a deadly assault on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Over the course of the two-hour attack, American sailors fought for their lives and those of their fellow servicemen against what must have seemed like an endless raid. By the time the last Japanese torpedo hit the water, a stunning amount of damage had been done to the US Pacific Fleet stationed there.
One of the catastrophes of the attack on Pearl Harbor was the sinking of the USS Oklahoma (BB-37). While it was a great loss when the vessel was deemed too damaged to be raised, repaired, and returned to service, the most devastating aspect of the battleship’s destruction was the loss of life suffered as a result.
During the course of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Oklahoma suffered the loss of 429 brave crewmen, some of whom were trapped within the ship for days, banging on the ship’s hull as clean-up and rescue efforts attempted to salvage and save all that they could. For the families of most of those 429 men, a greater tragedy still awaited – many of the bodies recovered from the wreckage were unidentifiable and were buried in graves simply marked “unknown.”
Nearly as tragic was the fact that, for decades, the lost men of the USS Oklahoma weren’t recognized in any physical way like the sailors of the USS Arizona were with the memorial built above the wrecked battleship.
The Oklahoma sailors’ remains went unidentified, until the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and Department of Defense started using DNA matching, over 70 years later.
Memorializing USS Oklahoma
Up until 2000, little consideration was given to a memorial specific to the Oklahoma disaster. Then, as the 60-year anniversary approached, USS Oklahoma survivors and the USS Oklahoma Memorial at Pearl Harbor Committee came together to push the US government to establish a place to remember the 429 lost sailors. In 2007, after hundreds of people donated time and money to help create the long-awaited memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial was dedicated.
The Oklahoma Memorial is located on Ford Island, directly adjacent to the Battleship Missouri. Using granite and marble, the designers wished to symbolize the strong hull of the battleship and the lives lost. The white marble used for each post represents the color of the uniform worn by the brave sailors of the US Navy, while the ramrod-straight posture represents the crew standing at attention, Manning the Rails of the USS Oklahoma forever.