The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 6, 2013

That day of infamy

By David Christy, News Editor
Enid News and Eagle

“The fourth torpedo hit the ship hard, above the armored belt this time because of the Oklahoma’s heavy list to port. The ship rocked from side to side in her terrible agony. An almost inaudible moan sounded through the lower decks as the mighty Okie’s vast insides absorbed the impact ... masts and turret guns were leaning faster and faster to meet the harbor water ... then, thirty seconds later ... the fifth torpedo jarred ship and sailors again with a final explosion. We hung on. It hadn’t been necessary. The ship was going fast.” — Seaman 1st Class Stephen Young, stationed on the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941

Located six blocks north of the site of the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history, the massive 10-ton anchor of the USS Oklahoma sits in a grassy, tree-ringed Oklahoma City median along North Broadway, nestled atop a circular marble foundation.

The last vestiges of this mighty Navy battleship, which harken back to its being commissioned in the dark days of the First World War in 1916, the anchor is a sobering reminder — as is the Murrah Building bombing site just blocks away — the world is a dangerous place to live.

While an American citizen — former U.S. Army soldier Timothy McVeigh — was responsible for killing 168 fellow Americans and Oklahomans in April 1995, both the Murrah bombing and the sinking of the USS Oklahoma were dastardly attacks upon this nation.

On this day 72 years ago, ships and planes, sailors and pilots of the Empire of Japan swooped down on the South Pacific island of Oahu, and in particular, battleship row at the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

The surprise attack by Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers decimated the U.S. Navy’s battleship fleet, an aging yet powerful symbol of a bygone era, when the sight of a battleship brought respect and fear to the minds and hearts of any friend or foe who saw them.

The 27,500-ton USS Oklahoma was a Nevada-class battleship that Sunday morning long ago, before this then-isolationist nation had an inkling it was about to be hurled headlong into the greatest conflict the world had ever seen.

Slammed by as many as eight torpedoes, the ship named for our state was moored outboard from the USS Maryland, and essentially protected her sister ship from the same repeated torpedo and bomb strikes as other battleships that day, from the USS Arizona to the USS Pennsylvania.

With her port side torn open by rending torpedo explosions, the Oklahoma began to roll over in the shallow harbor, quickly going keel up within 12 minutes, and trapping and killing more than 400 of her 1,398-man crew that day.

Iconic photographs of that dark December 1941 day almost all show the USS Oklahoma after she had rolled over, her superstructure stuck in the muddy bottom at Pearl Harbor.

Many valiant efforts were attempted to save men trapped below decks when the Oklahoma rolled, and my dad, who was a Navy man later in the war, as was my uncle, my grandpa and his brother before them, told me the thing that haunted him most about the attack was the tappings heard as long as 17 days after the ship sank — doomed crewmen making futile noises for the would-be rescuers who simply could not cut through the Oklahoma’s hull fast enough to reach them.

That many men died was bad enough — trapped in utter darkness knowing they likely would perish. That some lived more than two weeks was heart-rending.

My dad said it made him angry at the Japanese, as it did countless other Americans when they learned the details of the surprise attack. Less than four years later, America would get its measure of revenge when Japan was bombed into submission and surrendered.

I’d like to say the USS Oklahoma met a glorious end. It was not so.

Finally righted after a three-month ordeal, the Oklahoma was towed to dry dock to have her hull repaired for sailing and removal of her guns and ammunition stores.

Sold to a salvage company in California, the Oklahoma was pulled by two tugs in May 1947 toward a San Francisco scrapyard. Disaster struck May 17 when the ship was sunk for good in a storm 500 miles from the Hawaiian Islands.

On the 66th anniversary of the attack, a memorial for the 429 crew members killed on Oklahoma was dedicated on Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island in 2007.

As for the crew of the USS Oklahoma serving Dec. 7, 1941, three were awarded the Medal of Honor, three the Navy and Marine Corps Medals and one the Navy Cross.

If this nation still is around in 100 years, generations after us will be able view the USS Oklahoma’s anchor and remember that day of infamy.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid