| December 7, 2012

GUEST BLOG: The date still lives in infamy

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the dedication of the USS Oklahoma Memorial on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Memorial was designed, built and funded by the citizens of Oklahoma. The USS Oklahoma lost 429 sailors that fateful day -- the second-highest loss of life next to the USS Arizona. For 66 years there was no memorial to recognize the sacrifice these sailors made aboard our namesake battleship. So an executive committee was formed in early 2000 led by two Oklahoma sailors -- a retired Navy admiral and a commander -- to finally recognize these men and "right a terrible wrong."

At the anniversary ceremony in Hawaii today will be four former Oklahoma sailors who were aboard the ship that day. One now resides in Moore, Okla.; his name is Ed Vezey. He does not consider himself a hero but a survivor. Early the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, he and his roommate were making plans for the day, for they had liberty this day (Navy's term for having the day off). At 0755 their lives would be forever changed. General Quarter's sounded aboard the Oklahoma; the ship was under attack. They pulled on their pants and departed their stateroom, one turning to his right and the other turning to his left, both headed to their battle stations. This would be the last time these two shipmates would ever see each other. Ensign Francis Flaherty would posthumously receive that day the Nation's highest military decoration bestowed for bravery -- the Congressional Medal of Honor. (As an aside, there were two Medal of Honors given that day posthumously to Oklahoma sailors. The other was presented to Seaman James Ward.) Ed is 93-years young and still remembers that day as if it were yesterday and speaks of his friend fondly.

The memorial was built for two reasons: (1) to remember the sacrifice of the these 429 sailors who served aboard our namesake battleship and who paid the ultimate price and (2) to remind all generations -- past, present and future -- that freedom is not free. There is a price associated with the freedom we have today and it was paid by these sailors from the Oklahoma. This memorial will help to preserve the tradition, history and sacrifice of so many so we can enjoy the gifts we have as Americans today. The Memorial tells but one story of one battleship on "battleship row," but it tells a powerful story. Let no one rewrite history or change history books, for these events did occur. Men lost their lives so we, as Oklahomans and Americans, can have freedom. We are truly grateful for their sacrifice.

By Greg Slavonic, Rear Admiral, USN [RET]

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