Memorial stones name martyrs of Dec. 7 ship
OKLAHOMA CITY » Marble and granite markers for the USS Oklahoma monument at Pearl Harbor are on the way to Hawaii after a Capitol ceremony.
"The worst thing that can happen to you is not dying for your country, but being forgotten," said World War II veteran Roland Nee, summing up the feeling of Pearl Harbor survivors on why the monument is needed.
Nee, an 85-year-old Rush Springs resident, is chairman of the Oklahoma chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
A tractor-trailer carrying the markers left the Capitol for California after last week's ceremony, which featured remarks by Gov. Brad Henry and survivors of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The truck was escorted by motorcycles ridden by Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and members of various biker groups.
The USS Oklahoma capsized during the attack, and 429 crew members lost their lives. The markers bound for Honolulu are engraved with the names of the dead.
"It's been too long coming, but the USS Oklahoma Memorial is nearly complete," Henry said. "It seems very fitting that in December, the last month of our centennial year, the ship named for our great state and the men who died there will finally have the permanent memorial at Pearl Harbor that they've so long deserved."
The monument will be dedicated Dec. 7, the 66th anniversary of the attack.
State Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City worked with the USS Oklahoma Survivors organization for years on the project.
"All this group has ever wanted is a permanent memorial at Pearl Harbor to pay tribute to the men who died in that attack nearly 66 years ago," Reynolds said. "I am overjoyed that after all these years we're nearing the end of that journey."
USS Oklahoma survivors Paul Goodyear, 89, of Casa Grande, Ariz., and Ed Vezey, 86, of Center, Colo., were among those attending.
"This has always been about the men who didn't make it off the USS Oklahoma that day," Goodyear said. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about them, and I appreciate everything the people of Oklahoma have done to help make this happen."
Vezey said he was just glad the memorial would be complete while some of the survivors are living to witness the dedication.
"This has been a race against time for us, and many of the survivors who began this fight with us are no longer here," Vezey said.
John Pidcock, 83, of Sand Springs was on the USS Tangier on the northern side of Ford Island when the attack occurred. He said the crew on the Tangier was the first to return fire at the Japanese.
"We shot down three Japanese airplanes and helped sink a two-man sub," he said.
Pidcock was only 17 at the time. He said he was glad the monument is being built now, although it should have been erected years ago.
"They tell me World War II veterans are dying off a thousand a day," he said.
He said that when he joined the Tulsa organization of Pearl Harbor survivors, there were 89 members, and "now we've got only 18 left."
Officials said about $100,000 is still needed for the $1.1 million memorial. The Oklahoma Centennial Commission contributed $350,000 toward the cost in two increments.
Swift Transportation Co. is shipping the markers without charge.