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by Liane Nakahara, student writer

According to the Naval Historical Center, more than 90 ships were anchored at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attacks. The Japanese attacked military airfields across O‘ahu as well as the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor.

“ The shock and anger caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a divided nation and was translated into a wholehearted commitment to victory in World War II,” according to the Naval Historical Center Web site.

This Dec. 7 marks the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Several commemorative events open to the public will be held on Pearl Harbor Naval Base: a groundbreaking ceremony for a new USS Oklahoma memorial on Ford Island, the grand opening of the Pacific Aviation Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Day ceremony.

Part of the focus this year is on the survivors rescued from the capsized battleship USS Oklahoma. Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Command Historian Sean Hughes said that five torpedoes hit the Oklahoma. Water filled the open spaces and caused the ship to capsize within 20 minutes. The death toll on the Oklahoma was 429 sailors and marines, the second highest, next to the USS Arizona, whose death toll was 1,117.

Hughes explained that in the hours and days following the attacks, 20 Pearl Harbor Navy Yard workers were able to rescue 32 sailors who were trapped in the hull of the ship. The men trapped in the submerged battleship tapped on the pipes or hull, signaling that they were still alive. Air-powered chipping tools were used to break through the hull and rescue them.

“ The Arizona was still burning. It threw an eerie light on us as we worked, and for about an hour there was anti-aircraft firing all over the place. But we kept working,” said Pearl Harbor Navy Yard lead caulker and chipper Julio DeCastro, whose quote was provided by Shipyard Public Affairs personnel.

The USS Oklahoma reclamation effort is considered one of the most difficult salvage jobs the navy yard has faced. According to Hughes, the Pacific Bridge Company took the lead in March 1943 for the three-month effort to right the ship. Twenty-one winches were set up along Ford Island, with cables connected to the special wooden structure built on the Oklahoma’s hull. The cables were used to pull the ship right-side up.

The Oklahoma finally floated upright in November 1943 after water was pumped out of the hull and the damage was patched. Workers moved the ship into drydock. It was decommissioned on Sept. 1, 1944, and sold for scrap two years later. The USS Oklahoma sank 540 miles Southeast of Pearl Harbor on May 10, 1947, as it was being towed to California.

Pearl Harbor survivors from the USS Oklahoma and other ships will gather to remember that fateful day 65 years ago and to pay tribute to comrades lost during the attack.

For more information on Pearl Harbor Day events, visit the Navy Region Hawai‘i Web site at www.hawaii.navy.mil.

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