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USS Battleship Oklahoma
How the Crew of the USS Oklahoma Fought to the end Against All Odds
On the morning of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma was one of three ships put out of commission after that day. Although she was overturned after eight months of work, the ship was determined to be too old and unfit for duty. The events of the air raids led to the deaths of 429 sailors on board.
Before the war, the USS Oklahoma was built in the 1910’s and later commissioned in 1916 and served as an escort for allied convoys. The ship had cramped quarters, but sailors were educated on board, so many were able to serve the workforce with skills after their tours. The ship’s crew were also able to play in competitive football leagues and sailing teams. In 1918, there were six casualties caused by a flu pandemic.
On the morning of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the first wave of Japanese divebombers and fighters descended on the harbor around 8:00 a.m. Within minutes, several deadly torpedoes had already struck the Oklahoma, leaving little opportunity for retaliation. The “all or nothing” armor principle used in the design of the Oklahoma proved to be a terrible mistake, as several areas of the ship had no form of protection at all.
Bombs ripped through the weakest part of the ship, tearing it apart. Water began rushing in, leading to widespread flooding of the interior. Leaking oil on the surface of the water, the bay erupted in flames forming a scene straight out of hell itself.
Within ten minutes, the damage to the Oklahoma was too much to bear and the vessel capsized. Unfortunately for the sailors on board, the ship never had a fighting chance. Taken by surprise and under attack from all angles, there was almost no time for response. More than ten torpedoes had completely eviscerated the ship before an evacuation order was given to abandon it. Men were jumping from the ship out of desperation, only to land in the sea of fire below.
As the Oklahoma began to roll to it’s port side, the crew below deck were engulfed in darkness. One man, Francis Flaherty, stayed behind to guide his comrades to safety with his flashlight. Nobly staying back and giving up his own life to save the lives of others, Flaherty was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. There were others who did the same, doing everything they could to guide their fellow sailors to safety. They had no idea of the destruction that awaited on the outside.
They weren’t the only ones fighting for their lives. Hawaiian civilian Julio DeCastro organized a search and rescue team to aid the badly injured men on board. Boarding the Oklahoma and entering the darkness of the hull, they were armed with only flashlights. Thanks to the efforts of DeCastro and his team, 32 sailors were saved from certain death.
Against all odds, several members of the Oklahoma abandoned the capsizing ship, with many killed by strafing runs in their attempt. Amazingly, instead of running with their tails behind their legs, the men boarded the neighboring USS Maryland to fight to the end against the Japanese invaders. Manning the antiaircraft turrets, they helped defend the harbor through seemingly endless destruction.
The horrible events of “the day that lives in infamy” can never be forgotten. Members of the Oklahoma made up nearly 20% of the deaths that day. Two ships were named after heroic men who gave their lives during the attacks. The USS Austin and the USS England, named for John Austin and John C. England.
After the events of the raids, a project went underway to overturn the ship. Later considered unfit for duty, the Oklahoma was sold for scrap . On it’s final voyage to California, the tugboats towing the battleship ran into a violent storm. Able to hold no longer, the Oklahoma sank to the bottom of the ocean, nearly pulling a tugboat down with it. To this day, her final resting place is unknown.
Although the remains of the ship may never be discovered, there is a memorial in honor of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice on Ford Island in Hawaii. Listing the names of the 14 marines and 415 sailors, people honor their sacrifice to this day. This year will be the 75th annual anniversary commemorating the attacks on Pearl Harbor. On December 7th, 2016 there will be a special ceremony for the sailors of the USS Oklahoma located at the memorial.
This is the year to go and visit if you haven’t been before, as there will be a variety of unique opportunities exclusive to this year for the Pearl Harbor anniversary.
The Pearl Harbor Visitors’ Center can provide transportation to Ford Island for those who want to attend the ceremony for the USS Oklahoma, as the only ways to reach the island are by ferry or plane. It can be a headache arranging the plans for that week, juggling attendance dates, ordering tickets, and arranging for transport. The Visitors’ Center is able to work out everything for you. Experience this anniversary without any stress by making plans in advance.