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USS Oklahoma memorial dedication: Salute to shipmates
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USS Oklahoma memorial dedication: Salute to shipmates

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USS Oklahoma memorial dedication: Salute to shipmates

Representatives from Claremore High School JROTC and U.S. Grant High School MJROTC of Oklahoma City participate in ceremonies at Pearl Harbor on Friday. From left are Cody Marts, Kati Lortz, Jeremy Kirkendall, Hilary Keefe, Kathrine Carra, Kevin Eckols and Tyler McCaslin.

A memorial to the battleship USS Oklahoma is dedicated at Pearl Harbor 66 years after its sinking.

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- White marble columns stand like sailors manning the rails of a battleship, each bearing the name and rank of one of the 429 crewmen who died aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma. The memorial was dedicated Friday at Pearl Harbor -- exactly 66 years after the surprise attacks that sunk the Oklahoma and the more famous USS Arizona, marking the United States' entrance into World War II. "Today, we begin a new chapter in our remembrance of those who fought and died a few hundred yards from here," said Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry. The monument rests on Ford Island, near the spot where the Oklahoma was moored on Dec. 7, 1941, when at least eight Japanese torpedoes ripped into the hull, causing the ship to list and ultimately sink with more than a third of its crew trapped inside. Of all the ships attacked that day, only the Arizona had more casualties. A total of 2,388 Americans died in the attacks, including some 900 still entombed in the Arizona. "It took precisely 11 minutes for the USS Oklahoma to capsize at its moorings and 66 years for the dedication of its memorial," Henry said. "But 429 American voices, as Paul Goodyear has so eloquently reminded us, never stopped speaking to our hearts. And so we are here this day." Goodyear, a survivor of the ship's sinking, has been one of the most visible, vocal supporters of the memorial. He raised two flags Friday above the marble: the United States flag and, under it, a smaller, blue Oklahoma flag. The memorial was the result of years of work and fundraising by a group of veterans, lawmakers and others, many of whom were from Oklahoma. About 1,500 people -- including several hundred Oklahomans -- braved downpours and wind to attend the ceremony. In the front row was Oklahoma architect Don Beck, who designed the memorial. "We felt like if you left the memorial and didn't have goose bumps or a tear in your eye, we didn't do our job," he said in an interview before the ceremony started. "We'll let you be the judge." The wide eyes, smiles and tears of those walking through the memorial indicated that he accomplished his goal. Visitors were greeted by four rows of 7-foot-high columns nestled into a "V" shape to resemble the service rank on a sailor's sleeve. Below them run black slabs of marble to represent the ship. An engraved eagle sits above each name. The idea, he said, was to create a three-dimensional memorial rather than simply putting names on a wall. "If you choose to, you can walk among the souls," Beck said. The markers were fashioned at EuroCraft Granite and Marble Fabrication in Glenpool. Asked during an interview what he thought of the memorial, survivor Ed Vezey, 87, of Colorado said he might cry and took a moment to gather his composure. "It's right where it belongs," he said. He credited the people of Oklahoma with bringing the $1.2 million project to fruition, saying no one would be there Friday without the donors' efforts. "It was the state of Oklahoma. It was the people of Oklahoma who did this." Vezey, who delivered one of the two keynote speeches, said he wondered at first whether the marble creation was a monument or memorial. But he answered his own question, saying monuments were for great leaders or battles. "But try as hard as I can, I can't get myself to believe that getting your butt kicked and sunk in 15 minutes is a great victory -- so it is a memorial," he said, drawing raucous laughter from the mostly solemn crowd. On the morning Pearl Harbor was attacked, Vezey and his roommate were deciding whether to go swimming before or after breakfast. "We were rather rudely interrupted, and the rest of the story is well known," he said. Vezey said he hoped the dedication would prompt "a lot of healing" among his fellow sailors and Marines. And, he said, he hoped the memorial would remind future generations that there's a price to be paid for freedom. Seeing the many young people in uniform Friday gave him hope. "Guys, we can turn the baton over to those guys and march off to our short few years left with great confidence that the ship is in good hands," he said. Among the younger people attending were Navy Junior ROTC members from Claremore High School and Marine Junior ROTC cadets from U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City. They served as the color guard. Cadet Lt. Commander Kati Lortz, 18, of Claremore called the experience "awesome." She and 26 other students from her school stayed on the USS Missouri one night, and on Friday, they were planning to stay in the bachelor enlisted quarters, appropriately named Oklahoma Hall on Ford Island. The memorial site sits next to the pier where the museum ship USS Missouri is now docked. Survivor Ray Turpin, 86, of Las Vegas said he'd always felt it was an injustice not to have a memorial to his fallen crewmates. He said his main concern was for the relatives of the deceased. "Now they have something to come to," he said. "That's the main thing -- peace of mind." U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called the Oklahoma survivors "an extraordinary example of patriotism." "They didn't come here to be honored. They came here to honor their shipmates," he said. U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., had her own take on the day. "We may not have been with you 66 years ago, but we're here with you today to show our love and support." The 583-foot-long ship, known to its crew as "The Okie," was pulled from the water in 1943 and sold for scrap metal. While being towed to California to be dismantled in 1947, the ship sank and still sits about 540 miles from Oahu.

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