In honor of Pearl Harbor celebrating its 75th Anniversary this December, I decided that I should read up on my Pearl Harbor history. This book is about the men aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma when it was sunk at Pearl Harbor. This book covered the stories of men who escaped. Some men escaped while the ship was going down, others shortly after it had hit the harbor floor, and still others were with the author who spent over 25 hours aboard the ship after it sunk.
The author was among a group of men who were in charge of firing the big 14” guns of the U.S.S. Oklahoma. However, because the ship was being attacked by airplanes, these 14” guns were not useful so the men had been ordered to go below. Their officer was thinking that he would deploy these men to other parts of the ship to replace men where they were needed. However, no sooner had the men gone down below the shell deck and the Oklahoma began to sink.
The Oklahoma did not just sink to the bottom of the Harbor, the Oklahoma ended up turtling. Turtling is when the ship flips upside-down. As such, the men aboard the Oklahoma were now standing on the ceiling which meant that up was down and down was up. This added to the confusion and made it difficult for the men to know which way to go in order to escape.
This book does not waste any time in jumping to the fateful day, December 7, 1941. The book actually begins at 11:00pm on December 6 as the men who were on shore leave were rushing to the harbor boats to bring them to the Oklahoma. The book shares with us the stories of men who were supposed to be getting on the boats in a few minutes to enjoy shore leave for the day.
The author of this book interviewed many different men aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma mainly focusing on the men who were stationed at turret 4. The author focused his attention on telling their story on the day the Oklahoma sunk. This book does not go into the back lives of the various sailors other than to tell us what they were thinking during those fateful hours when they thought they might die. Some sailors were thinking of their girls back home, others about their families.
While the book does not give you much back story about the lives of the sailors who were trapped inside the U.S.S. Oklahoma, I felt that the author did an excellent job in keeping the focus of the story upon the life and death struggle aboard the sunken ship.
The author was among 11 men who were rescued 25 hours after the Oklahoma sunk. However, there were 3 men who had been trapped with these 11 who were brave enough to climb down several flights of ladders, go through an escape hatch, and swim out from the ship and up to safety. The problem is, these men barely made it to the surface before they ran out of air and as such, they had no way of going back down to let their fellow sailors know that they could make it. The men who had not tried to escape were left wondering whether their friends had made it or whether they had died trying.
At the end of the book, the author tells us that the U.S.S. Oklahoma ended up being sold for scrap metal. The ship was being towed across the Pacific and when it had gotten 500 miles out, it started to tilt. The tug turned around to head back to Hawaii but 400 miles from Hawaii, the great ship sunk. I’ve heard of the captain going down with the ship, but in this case, it appears that the ship decided to go down at sea rather than be torn apart for scrap metal.
The U.S.S. Oklahoma was one of the first ships that was sunk at Pearl Harbor. However, while it may have been first, it was not the deadliest. The Oklahoma ended up losing approximately 429 men while its sister ship the U.S.S. Arizona ended up going down with 1,177 men.