OKLAHOMA CITY – On Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – Wednesday, December 7 – a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor will be held at Campbell Park (13th and Broadway) at 11 a.m. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will host the event, intending to “honor our veterans and pay tribute to those who gave their lives.”
The event will be held outdoors on what weather forecasters indicate may be a cold day. This year it's not clear if any survivors who served on the U.S.S. Oklahoma at the U.S. Naval station in Hawaii will be present. Perhaps the last sailor-survivor living in Oklahoma died this year.
Campbell Park, located on the city’s historic Automobile Alley, is the home to the anchor salvaged from the U.S.S. Oklahoma, one of the battleships sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor early on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.
In all, 429 people – including 15 Marines and 415 Sailors aboard the Oklahoma – were dead or missing after the attack. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a speech to Congress asking for a declaration of war, characterized the attack as coming on “a day which will live in infamy.”
While Japanese warlords dominating their island nation hoped the attack would cripple the U.S. military in the Pacific Ocean, evidence indicates that Naval Admiral General Isoroku Yamamoto opposed the attack even as he guided it.
While the following words can not be documented in Yamamoto’s own voice or writing, the thoughts capture the ambivalence many historians contend he felt over the attack: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
The Oklahoma Historical Society estimates that nearly 5,500 Oklahomans lost their lives in the fight against German fascism and Japanese militarism. In all, CapitoBeatOK reported in 2014, “Nineteen Oklahomans received Congressional Medals of Honor, and many Oklahomans went on to command major military formations during the war.”
Stories from that day of infamy, and its aftermath, continue to haunt and edify Americans.
In October 2016, the remains of U.S.S. Oklahoma Navy Fireman 3rd Class Hopkins – missing in action after the attack on Pearl Harbor -- returned to his home state of New Hampshire for internment. Positive identification efforts began years ago, but were only completed in 2015 after lengthy scientific investigation.
Forthcoming Pearl Harbor events here and elsewhere bring forward a writer’s memory, both poignant and profound.
As a boy, Stefan Aleksandr McGuigan accompanied this writer one school day to Oologah, Oklahoma. The day was spent at the Will Rogers family ranch. Raised that day was a replica of the barn the state’s favorite son worked in as a boy. At first, the main attraction for Stefan was to have a day with his Dad.
He was thrilled when the Amish laborers who built the barn in a single day asked him to help finish it. During the drive home to Oklahoma City, the lad reflected: “This was good, so memory won’t die.”
Stefan later served in the Third Infantry Division, and was a combat medic in the race to Baghdad in March 2003.
So that memory won’t die …, one of the last survivors from the storied battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma was Edward Earl Vezey. He endured the deadly attack, then managed to swim to the nearby U.S.S. Maryland. The captain of that vessel asked Vezey to take a boat to an ammunition depot to get more supplies.
Vezey did so, and lived to recount his experiences, including at a state Capitol event with high school band members and others from Altus, Oklahoma, in 2014 (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/infamy-to-gallantry-concert-scheduled-dec-16-at-state-capitol). Last month, that Altus Band traveled to Hawaii, to participate in the Waikiki Holiday Parade. They honored Vezey and all those who served at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.
A Texan born in College Station, late in his life Ed Vezey worked with former state Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, and leaders from the U.S. Navy, Hawaii, Oklahoma and the federal government to establish the U.S.S. Oklahoma Memorial at Pearl Harbor (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/after-11-years-at-the-capitol-property-tax-cap-champion-jim-reynolds-bids-farewell-to-the-senate). In an interview with CapitolBeatOK several years ago, Sen. Reynolds, now Cleveland County treasurer, said his work on the memorial was the most significant thing he ever did in politics. And, he said, it changed his life for the better.
After the death of his wife, Vezey moved to Oklahoma in 2007. He spent his final years in the Sooner State, living in the south Oklahoma City district Sen. Reynolds had represented at the state Capitol for 11 years.
Ed Vezey, an Oklahoman by choice, died January 2, 2016 at the age of 95.
Ed and most of his shipmates have now gone before us. “So Memory won’t die” is our job.
Note: The Oklahoman reported Sunday (December 4) that Ed Vezey's remains will be interred in Honolulu on December 8. Three surviving shipmates -- Raymond Lee Richmond, Paul Nichols and Don Ollom -- will attend the ceremony. The first version of McGuigan's tribute said Vezey was the last survivor from the U.S.S. Oklahoma. We regret the error, and salute his shipmates, one and all.