Fallen service members honored at USS Oklahoma Memorial Ceremony
12 December 2022
From Anna Marie G. General, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - As part of the Pearl Harbor 81st commemorative series of events, the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility worked in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) to coordinate this year’s USS Oklahoma Ceremony at its memorial on Ford Island, Dec. 7.
Approximately 200 guests, including Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans and family members, attended the ceremony that commemorated USS Oklahoma (BB-37) and the Sailors and Marines who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. This year’s theme focuses on Everlasting Legacy.
“Today’s events serve to honor our fallen service members and remember the sacrifices made on Dec. 7, 1941,” said David Kilton, chief of interpretation for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. “We are grateful for the sacrifices that have been made by the Pearl Harbor survivors by what has been known as the Greatest Generation, their families and those World War II veterans.”
The presentation of colors by the Joint Color Guard opened the event followed by the national anthem and the Hawaii Pono’i sung by Donald Fialkowski.
Capt. Richard Jones, commander, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility provided opening remarks and shared the history of the USS Oklahoma on that tragic day.
“Thank you to everyone who made the journey to be here today to honor USS Oklahoma and her crew,” said Jones. “I am honored to be here in the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and armed with the everlasting legacy of the 429 Sailors and Marines of USS Oklahoma who made the ultimate sacrifice on Dec. 7, 1941, as well as those who worked to save the lives of 32 men trapped in her capsized hull.”
“On a quiet Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the ‘Okie’ as it was known on Battleship Row alongside six of its sister warships had begun its day,” he added. “In a matter of only 12 minutes, the ship and the crew were plunged into battle, attacked by as many as nine torpedoes. It capsized and sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor in mere minutes. Those still alive were now trapped in a hellish reality inside a capsized ship.
Jones explained how the crew members performed their escape.
“Several crew members were swimming blindly through almost 90 feet of darkened and flooded bulkheads before surfacing to the horrors that were occurring near the harbor,” said Jones. “For those still trapped in the rising waters, banging walls with any available tools desperately hoping their plea for help would be heard. On shore, hundreds of military and civilian workers raced to aid the foundering ship.”
Miraculously amidst the noise from the ongoing battle across the harbor, those assisting in the recovery heard the cries for help and sped the rescue of the men trapped deep within the Oklahoma.
“A group of civilian shipyard workers rose to the challenge and began chipping and cutting away at the hull steel to reach those trapped inside. For the next 48 hours, 32 men were pulled out of the flooded compartments and carried back to shore exhausted from their relentless efforts to be rescued,” said Jones.
Jones said the importance of having this ceremony is it continues the history and the legacy, and it allows the history to be alive. Through these events, it helps keep the memory and the history real for our up-and-coming Sailors and civilians, and citizens of the U.S.
Concluding the event, a floral tribute and a reading of the names of service members aboard the USS Oklahoma was announced through a loudspeaker as attending guests were invited to place rose petals and name cards matching the name of the fallen service member to the respective white stone name sticks along the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
According to NPS, the memorial’s black granite walls suggest the once formidable hull of the Oklahoma while the white marble standards [sticks] represents its lost Sailors and Marines. Each perfectly aligned marble standard symbolizes an individual in pristine white dress uniform, inspired from the naval tradition of “manning the rails.” The marble standards of this memorial stand perfectly straight, “manning the rails” of the Oklahoma, forever.