Friday, April 16, 2004

Pearl Harbor survivors
frustrated by delays

USS Oklahoma sailors want
a memorial in Hawaii for the ship

OKLAHOMA CITY >> On a lazy Sunday morning in December 1941, sailor Walter Becker was catching up on laundry in one of the engine rooms of the USS Oklahoma.

By the end of the day, 429 of Becker's shipmates were either dead or trapped inside the capsized ship after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

"We had 54 men in my division, and only four of us made it out alive," Becker said yesterday during a press conference at the state Capitol.

Now 82, the Casper, Wyo., native joined six other survivors of the attack on the USS Oklahoma who shared their frustration over failed attempts to secure a permanent memorial for the ship at Pearl Harbor.

Members of the group said they have encountered problems with the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy.

"The USS Oklahoma is the only U.S. battleship not to have a permanent memorial at Pearl Harbor," said survivor Paul Goodyear, the organizer of the annual USS Oklahoma reunion. "We're not asking for money, just an appropriate location for the project.

"The youngest of our survivors is already 80. If we don't do this now, these men will be completely forgotten. Is that the way we thank them for their supreme sacrifice they made for this country?"

Goodyear said the group was offered a small location in a restricted area far away from a national memorial for the USS Arizona.

"But it's so far out in the boonies," Goodyear said.

After being decommissioned and stripped of her guns, the Oklahoma was salvaged and sold to a California company. While the ship was being towed to the mainland, it parted its towline and sank May 17, 1947, about 540 miles from Oahu.

State Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Okla., said Oklahomans who wish to support the group in their efforts should contact their U.S. senators and representatives.

"This ship was named for our great state," Reynolds said. "The courage and the tremendous losses that are a part of that history should not be lost on us. We need our delegation to make this memorial a reality."


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