Coming Home… Finally
It was a beautiful morning as I made my way to the galley of my ship for breakfast. Growing up on a farm in Kansas, breakfast was my favorite part of the day because the world is just beginning to come alive. The galley smells of bacon frying, and the sound of eggs sizzling always reminds me of home. This morning was no exception.
I had just finished and was going back for another cup of coffee when a commotion topside grabbed my attention.
A shipmate ran by yelling, “we’re being attacked!”
Over the loudspeaker, everyone in the galley heard, “General Quarters! General Quarters! This is NO DRILL!”
On the run, I left the galley to make my way down three decks into the bowels of the ship. My assignment was in the engine room, and by the time I got there, my crew was assembled. We went about firing up the boilers, getting the steam up, and making power so the ship could move at a moment’s notice.
Smitty looked at me and said, “what do you think is happening up there?”
“I don’t know, but with all the racket, it sounds like our war has started.”
Suddenly the ship was rocked by several blasts, and smoke started filling the engine room.
I ordered my crew to start assessing the situation and see what they could do to repair any damage from the blasts. As other members of my crew worked hard to make the ship ready to move, she suddenly listed to port.
Over the engine noise. I heard an announcement imploring the crew to counter-flood the ship to prevent her from rolling over. The work of those seamen was to no avail; she rolled over and buried her mast in the soft bottom.
Just before she completed her roll, over the loudspeaker came, “Abandon Ship! Now hear this, abandon ship!”
The crew hastily made their way out, and as the last one out, I was charged with closing all the watertight doors. We didn’t even make it to the first set of stairs before we became trapped as the shipped settled upside down.
My group made its way forward to see if there was another way out, and we ended up with another group of sailors in our same predicament. A few were able to make it out before the shipped rolled, but our group was trapped.
With no food and only a few canteens of fresh water, we all worked together to see if we could find a way out of our predicament.
We banged on the bulkheads in Morse Code announcing our location. After an inordinate amount of time beating, we finally received a banging response.
In Morse code, “how many of you?”
Banging back, “Twenty-five!”
Another message, “We are working to get you out!”
This went on for days and days it seemed as we all weakened from exposure, lack of food, dehydration, and rising water.
Finally, weakened irretrievably, I succumbed to the entrapment. But, through it all, my crew had performed admirably and worked diligently to find an escape from our watery grave. They never lost hope even though their hard work was to no avail.
After the first few days, none of us were rescued. When they pulled my body from the forward compartment, I was known but to God.
At 23, I was in the prime of my life, living in a tropical paradise, and enjoying my days as a seaman in the United States Navy.
I wasn’t married, but I had a sweetheart back home in Kansas whom I would marry once my four-year hitch was up. That would have been in June 1942.
I never lived to see that day. On December 7, 1941, my ship, the USS Oklahoma, was hit by four torpedoes during the Japanese attack. She capsized, and I was killed along with 428 shipmates.
Today, I lie in a dormant volcanic crater called the Punchbowl. A marker with one word inscribed in marble, “Unknown,” above the date, “December 7, 1941,” tells my fate.
For 77 years, my family back in Kansas has not known what happened to me. The telegram from the War Department stated, “We regret to inform you that your son is missing in action and assumed dead.” After a while, the Navy and the War Department declared me killed in action.
Wait! Why am I being pulled out of my quiet resting place? Where are these men taking me?
With dignity and honor, I’m lying in a sterile room, and my bones are being scraped. What is happening?
I hear one of the men say, “Hallelujah! We have a match!”
“Great! That makes another Oklahoma soldier who can finally return home.”
They wrap me neatly and place me in a quiet box again. I hear the whisper of canvas being set over top of the box. With a final salute, I start my journey home.
I am no longer a nameless hero of a long-ago war.
My family and community gathered in the cold and rain of the family plot in my small hometown in Kansas. With the folding of Old Glory, I am finally laid to rest beside Mom, Dad, and Sis.
I can now rest in peace.
Note: This is a fictional account of real events that are occurring now with more regularity. With DNA testing improvements since World War II, the 429 Unknowns from the USS Oklahoma are being identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and reuniting long missing men with their families.