#PearlHarbor75: Remembering the USS Oklahoma and the USS Utah [VIDEO]

#PearlHarbor75: Remembering the USS Oklahoma and the USS Utah [VIDEO]

#PearlHarbor75: Remembering the USS Oklahoma and the USS Utah [VIDEO]

Today is the 75th anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy.” Three-quarters of a century ago, the sky over Oahu was filled with enemy planes. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor may now be history, but the names of the fallen should never be forgotten.

But while the fiery and horrific death of the USS Arizona and those aboard her is often remembered, the stories of those aboard the USS Oklahoma and the USS Utah – the other two ships that were a “total loss” to the Navy – are often forgotten. Today, let’s remember those brave souls who perished on board their ships as well.

The USS Oklahoma memorial on Ford Island (photo taken on July 3, 2016, by the author)
The USS Oklahoma capsized in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Their official website lists 415 sailors and 14 Marines as casualties. The worst part is that men drowned in the capsized wreck because they were trapped under the water. 32 men were able to be rescued by cutting through the hull of the ship. Horrifically, the banging from other trapped and doomed men continued for 3 days. An interview in 2013 with USS Oklahoma survivor Paul Goodyear recounts the horror of the attack, and then the horror of knowing your crewmates are dying and cannot be saved.

The ship now rests at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, after breaking her tow on the way to the West Coast. The bodies and bones found on board her were buried in mass graves at Punchbowl Cemetery on Oahu, though there are efforts to exhume the graves and identify the bodies. A memorial to those who perished was finally constructed on Ford Island and dedicated in 2007. It stands just outside of the entrance to the USS Missouri battleship exhibit, and can only be accessed by going via tour bus to Ford Island, or with military ID (since Ford Island is still an active military base).
The dedication marker of the memorial (photo taken July 3, 2016, by the author)
The names of the dead are inscribed on both the black granite that borders the memorial, and on 429 rails.
“Manning The Rails” (photo taken July 3, 2016, by the author)
The rails – one for each sailor and Marine. (photo taken July 3, 2016, by the author)
If you ever get the chance to visit Pearl Harbor, spend the money to take the tour bus to Ford Island (the two accessible stops for tourists are the USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum – both worth the money for admission), and stop at the USS Oklahoma Memorial before touring the Battleship Missouri. These men deserve to be remembered and honored.

But to get to the USS Utah Memorial, you need a military ID. Tourists are not allowed at the USS Utah Memorial, which was built in 1972.

USS Utah Memorial (photo taken in 2006 by Tom Sakiyama, via MaritimeQuest.com)
The USS Utah lays on her side in the harbor. She was struck by torpedoes during the attack, and rolled into the shallow harbor. 64 men died, many trapped under the water. There was an attempt to “right” the ship, but it failed. The USS Utah is considered a “war grave” along with the USS Arizona, as no bodies were ever removed. One child is also entombed aboard the USS Utah – the ashes of Nancy Lynne Wagner, who died at birth.

Nancy’s twin sister, Mary Kreigh, visited the memorial at the 60th anniversary in 2001. Mary Kreigh returned with her daughter Nina Kreigh for the funeral service. Friends and family were present, along with active-duty and Reserve Navy personnel.

Utah was sunk by a Japanese torpedo off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. Fifty-eight enlisted men and six officers perished aboard and all but four remain inside the hull.

Baby Nancy’s father, Chief Yeoman Albert Wagner, was attached to Utah at the time of the attack. Wagner had planned to scatter Nancy’s ashes at sea when Utah left Pearl Harbor, but he never had the chance. Chief Wagner survived the attack and remained in the Navy until 1952. He passed away in 1975 prior to interments aboard Utah and was buried at sea off San Diego. Baby Nancy’s urn is still in her dad’s locker aboard Utah.

The funeral service mentioned was held in 2003. Nancy’s twin sister Mary hopes to be buried with her someday, since that was not an option for their father.

Last night, a sunset service was held at the USS Utah Memorial.

Sailors who served on board the USS Utah (as is the case with the USS Arizona) are now eligible for burial on board the ship.

It has been 75 years since the attack, and we are losing Pearl Harbor survivors rapidly. This is the last major anniversary where survivors will be present. When survivors come to the memorials, they are treated like honored legends and heroes. We can still honor and thank those who survived, but soon they will be gone. It will then be up to us to remember them, as we also remember those who perished on this day. Today, take a moment to remember the brave souls who died on the USS Oklahoma and who rest in peace on board the USS Utah. Remember Pearl Harbor – all of it.

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