This land-locked, Midwestern state may not seem like it would be involved in the attack that brought the United States into World War II. But the state’s name is heard when discussing the day that has lived in infamy.
In 1916, the U.S. War Department (there was no DoD back then) commissioned the USS Oklahoma. It was the first and would be one of the largest U.S. combatants to burn fuel rather than coal, saving weight and volume of displacement. During the christening ceremony, Bishop E.E. Hoss of Muskogee prayed that the ship would be a minister of piece and not an instrument of war, which it was for several years. The Oklahoma was stationed off the coast of Ireland and helped protect American convoys in the areas.
It was part of the Atlantic Fleet and was modernized in 1927 before being sent to the Caribbean until 1936. The vessel was sent to Spain several times to retrieve U.S. citizens during the Spanish Civil War.
But on Dec. 7, 1941, the ship would meet its fate. The ship was in Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor, making it an easy target for the Japanese. It was stuck multiple times by torpedoes, capsized and sank. The ship had the second most casualties in the harbor that day, following behind the USS Arizona. On the Oklahoma, 429 men lost their lives.
Three medals of honor, three Navy and Marine Corps Medals and one Navy Cross were awarded to sailors who fought on the Oklahoma during the attack.
That would not be the end of the USS Oklahoma’s story. In 1947, the Oklahoma was recovered and was patched so it could float again. But during the move to the San Francisco Bay, a heavy storm struck and the Oklahoma sank. Its exact location is currently unknown, though hope remains that it will be brought to the surface one day.
In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, though the servicemen have since been recovered.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has been working since 2015 to uncover the unidentified remains, with more than 100 families now resting assured about the fate of their loved ones.
Parts of the USS Oklahoma now resides in the state. In 2003, the U.S. Navy recovered the mast from the Oklahoma and it currently resides in War Memorial Park in Muskogee. The anchor of the ship is located at Campbell Art Park, just north of downtown OKC.