How the USS Oklahoma Memorial at Pearl Harbor got started

by Kevin King

I purchased a wonderful book written by Mr Joe Todd about the USS Oklahoma.   From the reading of that book it prompted me in 1999 to attend my first USS Oklahoma reunion held at the Oklahoma Historical Society.  I made plans to visit  in 2000 to show my young son and bride Pearl Harbor, and when we arrived it really disturbed me that the USS Oklahoma seemed to be forgotten. On the very place the USS Oklahoma was moored on the morning of Dec. 7,1941 was now the battleship USS Missouri. After touring the Mighty MO I later toured the Punch Bowl National Cemetery and couldn't locate the remains of the 429 crew members  of the USS Oklahoma. None of the grounds keepers at the Punch Bowl Cemetery knew where the crew of the OKIE was interred. I discovered after my trip that the crew was buried in mass graves with markers listing the amount of bodies in each grave and the word "UNKNOWN". 

Three ships didn't make out of that harbor alive after the Japanese attack.

USS Arizona (BB-39) 1,177 officers and crewmen

USS Oklahoma (BB-37) 429 Officers and crewmen

USS Utah (BB-31) 64 officers and men

The Arizona, and the Utah are still located in Pearl Harbor today with their crew entombed. Only the USS Oklahoma was removed and scrapped.

 I decided that some marker was needed to be placed at the  Missouri announcing the USS Oklahoma was moored here during the battle for Pearl Harbor. I made an appointment with a local businessman, Mr P.B. Odom III and he instructed me to write a letter of intent and he would mail it out to the right government parties. His daughter Rachel proofread my letter and dropped it into the mail. I corresponded with the White House, Congress and the US Senate. I want some historical sign announcing the presence of this once proud battleship. I want the tourist at Pearl Harbor to know the truth of the USS Oklahoma. At this point I knew I needed to drum up some local support.   I then approached a local Oklahoma senator that had just been elected. I was invited to tell my story to a group of businessmen the local senator had assembled, and from that a committee was formed. I purchased the domain and started traveling across the country attending numerous USS Oklahoma reunions, collecting interviews, meeting the vets who served on board the OKIE. I purchased material and collected numerous photographs to tell the story of this great ship. This website was massive at one time to enlighten the general public about the crew and the battleship.  I invited Mr Paul Goodyear a survivor off the USS Oklahoma to come join the committee because he spearheaded the OKIE survivors association. I had met Mr Goodyear at a USS Oklahoma reunion. The committee's secretary and a executive member was Elayne Dennis as I found out later was extremely vital in keeping the minutes of our meetings.  She was the conscience of our committee keeping everyone in line.   There was a diversity of people that made up the committee at this time.  From 2000 the Memorial Committee began to progress and on September 7, 2006  with just a couple of  months before groundbreaking our chairperson thought it best to invite  Mr Edward Vezey who was another USS Oklahoma survivor  to join our committee.  

When you have an ideal and you share your vision with others you will empower them to be part owners and miracles will begin to happen.  The Lord placed it in the hearts of a lot of people to help. 

After 5 long years and over $20,000 of my personal funds the movement began to attract the attention of United States Congressman Tom Cole and United State Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  

We needed their assistance because of the red tape trying to build this memorial on an active military base.

Senator James Inhofe sponsored a Bill in the U.S. Senate, in concert with Congressman Tom Cole who sponsored a Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and later carried the Bill to the President’s office for signature by                  President George W. Bush.

The Memorial had to be built in a certain time frame.  With $1,800 seed money I organized a free to the public USO style benefit concert that included legendary USO entertainer  Anita Bryant with choir and orchestra, 145th Army band, also a WW2 style swing band, 'The Talk of the Town".  The event concluded with a beautiful fireworks display.  I was able to raise over $50.000 for the memorial from the donations made at this free concert.  

The fine people of the great state of Oklahoma, and The Oklahoma Centennial Commission under the direction of Mr Blake Wade donated 1.1 million dollars.

The memorial was dedicated during the Centennial Celebration of the great State of Oklahoma on December 7, 2007.  I was in charge of transportation for the USS Oklahoma survivors  and their families.  I made sure they were safely  transported to the dedication on a active military base at Pearl Harbor.  I made sure they were returned to their hotels after the event.

The surviving crew made this their official website, however with their passing, and no financial support I was forced to condense this site to but a shadow of what it once was.