The USS Oklahoma Veteran

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret

USS Oklahoma
USS Oklahoma
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Wisconsin –-(  On 6 Dec 2013 I will be attending a Pearl Harbor 72nd Anniversary ceremony in Des Plaines, Ill.  I will be driving Chief Petty Officer Joe Triolo USN Ret to the ceremony.

Chief Triolo manned a 50 caliber machine gun on board the USS Tangiers that day and was credited with hitting three Japanese aircraft.  This was his third ship since he joined the Navy in 1937.   His first ship was the USS Oklahoma and his best friend from back home in West Virginia died on the Oklahoma on 7 Dec 1941.

We buried an old Naval veteran today.
His passing was quiet, far from that terrible affray.
He had survived and done well in his final years.
Unlike his shipmates, who perished in unfathomable fears.

They were not supposed to be in port, they should have been out on patrol.
Coming to ”Pearl” for an Admiral’s inspection would bring a deadly toll.
Sailors were sleeping-in, not worried about the inspection order.
“Now hear this, this is not a drill, sound general quarters.”

Chaplain Schmitt was headed for church-call when the attack started.
Within eleven minutes, to his heavenly father he had departed.
He was below decks helping injured sailors make it safely out.
A place was waiting in heaven for the Padre, there is no doubt.

Father Al would be the first Chaplain to die in that world war.
Pushing injured sailors thru a hatch, “move topside” he did implore.
He could have made it out alive, if not for Navy protocol.
Senior man stays until the end, directing escape for all.

Private Joseph Lawter was on the fantail with his bugle ready to blow.
After first call, he saw something flying in, straight and low.
“Corporal of the guard, those are Jap planes flying just above the drink.”
“Lawter you get paid to blow that bugle, not think.”

It was too late, the first torpedo slammed into the port side.
Within minutes more would strike the Okie’s tough old hide.
Too many hatches were left open in anticipation of the Admiral’s inspection.
It is easy in hindsight to see the error of this fatal leadership misdirection.

The Oklahoma was senior and she should have been moored inboard.
Putting her to the outside left the Okie open to the Japanese horde.
This may have saved the Maryland from destruction on that December day.
But it left one grand old dreadnought, lying on the bottom of the bay.

The USS Oklahoma was an older battleship, from an earlier generation.
With her 14 inch guns she stood ready to defend the nation.
She had never fired a shot in anger, not even in the First World War.
Now she is on the bottom of the ocean, her big guns never again to roar.

Off Spain the Oklahoma was there to protect Americans in harm’s way
In this new war she was lost to the Navy and the Nation in the opening day.
She rolled over in minutes with her keel raised to the Hawaiian sky.
429 men were trapped below, and were destined to die.

The Japanese sank the Oklahoma, a long list of crewmen they did cull.
As small boats were passing, banging was heard on her turned up hull.
Seaman Garlen Eslick and 31 others were trapped in an artificial night.
It would be 28 hours before they again saw the glow of daylight.

With hammers and chisels rescuers worked to pierce that dying ship.
No cutting torches because life from seamen’s lungs it would strip.
The crewmen were dying as the water continued to rise on the Okie’s inside.
Work harder, work faster they must peel away, the old girl’s armored hide.

Airman “Spider” Webb had been on board the Oklahoma for just a day.
He did not know where to go, as he sprang from his rack were he lay.
He would push himself through a port hole, that’s all he could do.
But the Jap’s would see “Spider” again over Pacific skies of blue.

Spider” Webb would go on to win his pilot wings of gold.
Taking on the enemy in the air, he proved to be a man of bold.
Dogfighting, he surrounded 40 Jap planes creating a moment’s thrill.
But that day he upped the score for the Oklahoma, with eight aircraft kills.

The Barber brothers all joined the Navy to serve their Nation with pride.
The three shipped out on the Oklahoma standing side by side.
In the end they all would be lost, with no remains to be returned.
Leroy, Malcolm and Randolph, respect from a grateful nation you earned.

There were other brothers to serve and die on the Oklahoma that day
They all had a sad history in this new war to play.
Lost forever were the brothers; Woods, Trapp, Palmer, Blitz, and Casto.
Into heaven they ascended, as the crew of a small boat they did row.

“This is a real air raid, this is no sh__”
Not a standard shipboard broadcast, but it got the message out there quick.
Ensign Herbert Rommel returned to his guns as Zeros skimmed the bay.
But Captain Rommel would survive, to fight and win another day.

Over 1300 crewmen were assigned to the Oklahoma on that sunny morn.
Eventually taps would be sounded for 429 on a bugler’s sorrowful horn.
The wounded would be pulled from the water and tended as heroes all.
The rest of the crew would be reassigned, to meet a suffering nation’s call.

The Oklahoma never returned to challenge her enemy to a fair fight.
It took years at “Pearl” to right her and bring her deck into the light.
She was sold off as scrap after they pulled from her, those big guns.
The USS Oklahoma was finally lost, sunken under tow in the Pacific sun.

We must remember the Oklahoma, for the crew their time is running out.
It must be marked in stone, to be preserved in a military redoubt.
Ford Island will be the home to a memorial that will stand the test of time.
For the Naval veteran he can visit and say “I was there, she was mine.”

We buried an old Naval veteran today.
This one, a shipmate who had seen that tragic December day.
But he survived to meet his nation’s demand, to seek justice for all.
He fought hard for his nation, and now takes his final military call.


Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
[email protected]

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]