Thursday, December 07, 2006


The USS Oklahoma Memorial sailing forward

December 07, 2006

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Thursday morning a small group of state officials will turn some earth on the shores of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii marking the first steps in what many hope will be a memorial to the USS Oklahoma.

It was a sad day when 429 of its sailors lost their lives on December 7th, 1941. Only the USS Arizona suffered more casualties.

Galen Culver offers us a glimpse into the Oklahoma's distinguished history of service which included many naval firsts.

She was state of the art at her commissioning in 1914. The USS Oklahoma and her sister ship the Nevada were the first to sport gun turrets with three cannons on them. They were the first to run on fuel oil instead of coal.

"They were the newest and most powerful ships in the world," says historian Mike Bell.

Bell has researched, not only the sad end of the Oklahoma at Pearl, but its proud record of service. Of the more than 200 photographs of the ship, crew member recollections, and even motion pictures housed at the Oklahoma History Center, Bell can recall the Oklahoma's service on U-boat patrol in World War One.

It's escort of President Wilson returning from the treaty of Versailles, and its rescue of stranded Americans at the outbreak of the Spanish American war.

"The Oklahoma rescued about 400 civilians from Spain," says Bell.

The ship had torpedo tubes at one time and a rear gun, both of which quickly proved to be bad ideas.

On another December day in 1922 the USS Oklahoma became the first ship to launch an airplane by catapult.

"What they used the aircraft for was for scouting. They could fly a lot farther and faster than any ship could go," Bell explains.

The ship never fired a shot in anger until Pearl Harbor, but it did become the first navy ship to sink a train when it rammed a barge on a foggy day near Bremerton, Washington.

"When the ship hit, it knocked some railroad cars into the water so the Oklahoma became the only battleship to sink a train," chuckles Bell.

The Oklahoma was at the end of her naval service in 1941 and one of six battleships sunk by the Japanese on December 7th.

That memory and a few shiny artifacts, overshadow all the others, but the old girl still has other stories to tell.

In Oklahoma City I'm Galen Culver for NewsChannel 4. Is this a great state or what!

A design for the memorial still awaits official approval. Memorial organizers are also looking to raise another half million dollars to complete it within the next couple of years.


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