Monday, September 6, 2010

Battleship Oklahoma BB-37 by Jeff Phister with Thomas Hone and Paul Goodyear

It’s difficult to dramatize history and non-fiction, because in some cases there is more drama and action in the story that no more can be added. That much is true for just about anything written about the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The sailors on board the USS Oklahoma when she capsized after being hit by at least eight torpedoes had no shortage of drama, action and terror. Over four hundred men lost their lives on the battleship that horrible day.

Jeff Phister and Thomas Hone teamed up with USS Oklahoma survivor Paul Goodyear write Battleship Oklahoma, BB-37, which appears to be the most comprehensive account of the tragedy from the sailors’ point of view to date.

Phister, Hone and Goodyear interviewed dozens of living survivors to recount a minute-by-minute timeline of the event starting at 7:55am when the attack began until the last man was rescued from the hull over two days later.

The authors recreate the men’s movements and their escape from the Oklahoma based on their positions in the ships. In successive chapters, they chronicle the men on deck, then below decks and finally the lower decks and the hull. When the attack began, many men fled for cover below decks as they had been trained to do during an aerial attack. Another protocol required the hatches to be sealed, which in turn sealed the fate of many men in the belly of the ship. By the time it was realized that the Japanese were using torpedoes, it was too late. The Oklahoma had been hit twice and was starting to list.

Some of the accounts get graphic as one survivor witnessed nine of his fellow sailors crushed by artillery as it rolled out of its spot when the Oklahoma tilted. Others watched friends drown, unable to save them. Two men were asphyxiated by toxic fumes created by cutting torches when a rescue crew ignored warnings of cork lining the room where the men were trapped.

It took over two years to right the Oklahoma and get her afloat so she could be towed into dry dock. During the latter months of her salvage as she was being patched to pump water out of her lower decks, the crews had to deal with the bodies of the sailors submerged for so long. Each one had to be treated with utmost care. Of the 429 who died, 380 still remain unidentified. Thirteen bodies have never been found.

With advances being made in DNA research and testing, efforts continue to identify the fallen sailors so they can be given a proper burial.

Battleship Oklahoma BB-37 is moving tribute to all those aboard her on the day in infamy.

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