PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy launched an attack on U.S. installations throughout Oahu. They damaged more than 20 naval vessels and more than 300 aircraft, resulting in the death of more than 2,000 Americans.
Among the many ships targeted was the Nevada-class battleship Oklahoma (BB 37), which received 8 torpedo hits within the first 10 minutes of the attack. This continued until a final torpedo capsized and sank her, killing 14 Marines and 415 Sailors.
Seventy-five years later to this day, World War II veterans, Pearl Harbor survivors, friends and family members gathered at the USS Oklahoma Memorial on Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, for a commemoration service. This ceremony was in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice aboard the once mighty battleship and throughout the island.
"Of the ships damaged or sunk that morning, the loss of life on USS Oklahoma was second only to USS Arizona," said Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet and keynote speaker for the ceremony. "Here today, we honor the 429 service members who gave their lives that morning, as well as the survivors whose stories continue to inspire both current and future generations."
Several survivors that were aboard Oklahoma during the attack were at the ceremony; living testaments of the past.
"They are living records of the wounds our nation endured on Dec. 7, 1941, and of the resilience that allowed us to fight back, turn the tide of war, and ultimately achieve peace and reconciliation with former adversaries," said Swift as he addressed the audience.
The ceremony hosted additional speakers who all expressed their gratitude for those who served during World War II. They told stories about what Sailors endured the morning of the attack, the toughness they showed, the initiative they had. One story highlighted was that of Oklahoma survivor Roy Carter, a carpenter's mate and damage controlman.
As the attack unfolded outside the bulkheads of Oklahoma, Carter said he followed his sense of duty, and began sealing watertight doors. This action, Carter said, was something he felt was the right thing to do. He inadvertently trapped eight Sailors within a compartment below. In the following two days after the attack, 32 trapped Sailors, including the eight he sealed within the compartment, were rescued by Navy shipyard workers through the use of chisels and air hammers. To this day, Carter says he feels that whatever told him to close that hatch is the reason why those Sailors lived. That action created a watertight space that kept them alive long enough to be rescued. He's happy knowing he was able to help out his shipmates.
"They [the Oklahoma Sailors] rejected putting themselves first despite an innate, organic drive to first survive," said Swift. "Their refusal to accept defeat then still resonates throughout Pacific Fleet now, and remains a great source of inspiration and strength, and fortitude, and forms the core of what is now often referred to as the 'American fighting spirit.'"
Pearl Harbor, home to ships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has changed since USS Oklahoma was sunk. Pearl Harbor is a major international port location in which U.S. and its allies work together to protect their sea-lanes; advance international ideals and relationships; and deliver security, influence and responsiveness within the region.
Today, the U.S.-Japan relationship exemplifies a deep-rooted trust, friendship, support and cooperation between two countries. This relationship plays an integral role in perpetuating peace and trust in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
"That path began here, in Pearl Harbor, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it led our Pacific nation to grow from a Pacific power to 'the' Pacific power," said Swift. "Sailors who serve today in Pearl Harbor and throughout the Pacific embody that proud heritage."
The U.S. Pacific Fleet is the world's largest fleet command, encompassing 100 million square miles, nearly half the Earth's surface - from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, and from the U.S. West Coast into the Indian Ocean.
"It is through today's Pacific Fleet Sailors that the legacy of those who survived the attack extends well beyond Pearl Harbor and across the Indian and Pacific Oceans," said Swift. "That is where 140,000 of them operate 150 ships, 40 submarines and 1,057 aircraft. They do this to protect the international rules-based system that has allowed so many nations to rise from the ashes of World War II and to achieve unprecedented levels of prosperity over 70 years since then."
On Dec. 7, 2007, the USS Oklahoma Memorial was formally dedicated as a reminder of the ship and its crew. It is a reminder of the integrity they bore, and the accountability they held to their ship and shipmates. Today the memorial stands on the shores of Ford Island, next to where it was formerly berthed. It's a place that past, present and future generations can go to remember those who survived and those who gave their lives - those of the "Greatest Generation."