Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard honors USS Oklahoma

Command Master Chief Roger Schneider of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard places a flower at one of the marble monuments dedicated to the Pearl Harbor servicemen who died aboard the USS Oklahoma.

Story and photo by MC2 Jeffrey J. Hanshaw

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PHNSY & IMF) recently paid homage to the USS Oklahoma at the annual National Park Service ceremony honoring the 429 Sailors and Marines who lost their lives on the battleship during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Shipyard workers were among the first responders to come to the aid of the stricken ship and were instrumental in rescuing 32 crew members. In the months that followed, shipyard workers restored the ship to an upright position for salvage.

Capt. Greg Burton, PHNSY & IMF commander, served as keynote speaker at the USS Oklahoma Memorial Ceremony, Dec. 7, 2017. With the Battleship Missouri Memorial serving as backdrop, Burton reflected on the attack on Pearl Harbor and how his office window view helps him keep things in perspective.

“As I look out that window, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that this tranquil spot was attacked 76 years ago by the Japanese Imperial Navy resulting in massive destruction and the loss of thousands of lives,” he said.

Burton explained how the workers, from military members and federal employees, to mechanics, machine operators, and other shipyard employees, rose to the challenge of aiding the crew of the USS Oklahoma.

“It was their actions in response to attack, and not the destruction of a surprise attack that became the most meaningful part of the story of Dec. 7, 1941,” Burton said.

In his remarks, Burton focused on the many who “rose to the challenge” during the attack, including Pay Clerk D. L. West-fall, who joined a line of other men to help injured men off the ship before passing out and becoming one of the injured himself.

He spoke of Julio DeCastro and his “chipping gang from Shop 11,” who, after the Oklahoma capsized within 12 minutes of being struck by multiple torpedoes, organized a group of 20 shipyard workers who were able to rescue 32 sailors trapped in the severely damaged hull.

Burton’s talked about the months that followed and how the salvage of the USS Oklahoma was to become “the most ambitious and challenging salvage operation in Navy history.” He said Cmdr. F.H. Whitaker and his staff constructed an electric winch system, comprised of 21 concrete foundations on Ford Island and 42 miles of cable connected to the hull, to slowly pull the Oklahoma upright. The process took three months, but was symbolic of our country’s recovery from the attack.

Burton motioned to a line of eight Sailors assigned to PHNSY & IMF who provided a visual backdrop to the ceremony, each standing by a photo representing a stage of the salvage operation.

“Stories of the Oklahoma have anchored today’s shipyard workers to the Navy’s mission of keeping our Fleet ‘Fit to Fight,'” Burton said, echoing the shipyard’s mantra. “Let us never forget the heroic efforts of servicemen and civilians during the attack on Pearl Harbor to save many.”

“History shows us that they all rose to the challenge. I am confident we can expect no less from today’s service members and shipyard workers. We must be — and will be — ready to rise to any challenge,” Burton said.

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Category: News