In honor of the men killed when Oklahoma capsized and sank, the USS Oklahoma Memorial stands on Ford Island directly adjacent to the entrance to the Battleship Missouri, which is moored where Oklahoma was on the morning of December 7, 1941. The memorial provides details about the once-mighty battleship and features 429 white markers, one for each of the crew lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is located near the entrance to the USS Missouri on Ford Island in the middle of the harbor. You can visit the memorial on all tours that visit the USS Missouri.
The USS Oklahoma Memorial is one of the newer sites at Pearl Harbor. Constructed in 2007, this memorial honors the crewmen and Marines of the Oklahoma. On the day of the Japanese attack, less than a third of the Oklahoma’s crew escaped. Unlike the USS Arizona however, the Navy salvaged the Oklahoma and brought it back to the surface in November, 1943. All the bodies were recovered and given a proper burial.
The Oklahoma Memorial
Using black granite and marble, the designers wished to symbolize the strong hull of the battleship and the lives of the 429 crew 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.
With twelve torpedoes launched against her, USS Oklahoma took the brunt of the torpedo attack on Pearl Harbor. Nine of those torpedoes hit their mark. The torpedo attack ripped open holes in the Oklahoma’s hull and caused her to list 40 degrees. Eventually she turned turtle and rolled 135 degrees and 429 men lost their lives.
The Oklahoma was a Nevada Class battleship. She was moored on battleship row with her sister ship Nevada. The Nevada class battleships were oil-fired instead of coal-fired like the USS Arizona. She was also smaller than the Arizona at 583 feet and 27,100 tons. Oklahoma was commissioned in 1916.
It was her position as an outboard ship that made her an easy target and allowed for so many torpedo hits. The Maryland was inboard of Oklahoma and as a result, was shielded by torpedoes. The torpedo attack took only 11 minutes and the Oklahoma capsized in 15 minutes. Part of the reason that Oklahoma sank quickly was her anti-torpedo voids had their inspection covers removed. The following day, Monday, December 8th, an admiral’s inspection was scheduled. The open covers compromised her watertight integrity. The crew could not even make attempts to counter-flood because of the speed with which she was flooding.
After she listened to 40 degrees, it became clear to the ship’s executive officer, Commander Jesse L. Kenworthy that the ship was going to roll over. He ordered his men to abandon ship over the starboard side as it was rolling over. Like the men of the other ships abandoned, they had to swim through the dangerous, oily water to safety. Some men swam to nearby Maryland, others made it to Ford Island.
Many men were trapped when the Oklahoma capsized. They began banging S.O.S. against the bulkhead in hopes that they would be rescued. Their banging was heard and ship fitters from smaller vessels began cutting holes into the Oklahoma. The crew members stuck in the Oklahoma were surviving on the small amount of oxygen left in the compartments. Some died when the torches used to cut through used the last of their oxygen. The rescue parties were able to save 32 men who were trapped inside of Oklahoma. Many of the men rescued went to the hospital ship Solace, where they got a “stiff drink of whiskey.”
The Oklahoma was righted in 1943. In 1944, she was decommissioned. It was determined that she would never return to service. In 1946 she was sold to a California company with plans to scrap her. As she was being towed to California in 1947, the ship encountered a serious storm. The Oklahoma began sinking and dragging the two tugboats with her. The tugboat crew cut the lines and let her go and she remains at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean today. Many of the Oklahoma‘s survivors were pleased to learn of her sinking because they did not want their beloved ship to be used as scrap metal.
While the whereabouts of many ships sunk during World War II have been discovered, Oklahoma’s final resting place remains a mystery. What is known is that she was approximately 500 to 700 miles northeast of Oahu when the storm threatened to sink the tugs that were towing her.
In an effort to save themselves, the crews of Hercules and Monarch released the cables tethering them to Oklahoma, and let her sink to the bottom of the Pacific, in water far deeper than Pearl Harbor. Her exact coordinates were never reported by the crews that were pulling her to California, making finding her exact location a huge challenge for any potential search team.
It’s not impossible that she’ll eventually be found, especially since Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen and his team aboard his research vessel Petrel began searching the Pacific for World War II-era shipwrecks. To date, they have already uncovered the location of USS Ward (DD-139), USS Indianapolis (CA-35), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Juneau (CL-52), among others.
Oklahoma’s distance from Hawaii doesn’t rule out one day locating her. Lexington was discovered more than 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia. While Allen hasn’t said whether Oklahoma is among the many prospects his research team is hunting for, finding her would be their most significant discovery yet.
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, make the time to walk the tour and pay respects to the USS Oklahoma.
Pearl Harbor Tour
Pearl Harbor Tour
Pearl Harbor Tour