Facts About the USS Oklahoma
June 6, 2017
During the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy suffered the loss of several vessels vital to the fleet’s strength. Among them was the USS Oklahoma, a battleship that capsized after suffering fatal blows to her hull. When the Oklahoma sank, she took with her over 400 brave sailors many of whose remains were unidentified for decades.
Though the Oklahoma didn’t have a part in World War II, her loss in the attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow to the Navy, making her an important part of American history. As you explore the history of Pearl Harbor, be sure to keep these facts about the USS Oklahoma in mind.
Identifying the Lost
At the time of her sinking, the remains of 429 sailors who perished aboard the Oklahoma were pulled from the wreckage, though their bodies were impossible to identify. As resources were slim and the focus of the nation was on the war, a mass grave was dug for the fallen Oklahoma sailors.
Recently, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has initiated a program that allowed these bodies to finally be exhumed and identified through DNA testing of surviving family members. The process of identifying each fallen sailor—estimated to take five years altogether—will finally allow them to receive the proper burial they were denied over 75 years ago.
The Loss of the First Chaplain
Father Aloysius Schmitt, an American chaplain aboard the Oklahoma, was among the 400-plus men who never made it off the sinking vessel, making him the first American faith leader to die during World War II.
In 2016, a year after the remains of the Oklahoma’s fallen men were exhumed, Fr. Schmitt was identified and returned to Iowa. The fallen chaplain received a Memorial Mass shortly thereafter and was interred in Dubuque, IA.
A Grave in the Pacific
After being refloated, the Oklahoma was deemed too damaged to repair and was sold after the war for scrap.
On her voyage to a San Fransisco scrap-yard, a large storm hit, and despite the efforts of her two tug vessels, Hercules and Monarch, the Oklahoma was lost to the Pacific, almost taking the tugs with her. The exact location of the Oklahoma remains a mystery.
Memorializing the Oklahoma
Though there is no physical vessel to visit to pay respects to those lost aboard the Oklahoma, there is a memorial in Pearl Harbor. Near the Battleship Missouri, the USS Oklahoma Memorial honors the 429 sailors with white marble markers.