Jackson Parker Centers, my dad, was born in 1918, and joined the US Navy in 1937. He was first assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, and was still aboard when the ship was tied at Pearl. Dad didn’t speak much about the attack because he lost many friends aboard, but what he did say, enhanced by news articles and military records speak much about the man who was my father.
He had just finished breakfast and was relaxing in his bunk when the alarm of the attack blared out. Apparently it was not the standard “This is not a drill,” because he would never assault his daughter’s innocent ears with exactly what was said. The first thing he did do was go to his locker to grab a pack of cigarettes. Then while running to his station he was startled to see a torpedo heading midship.
There were five men at his station when the Oklahoma was dealt her fatal blow and the ship turned upside down looking to all viewing from above like a beached whale. The men fought to climb up to the bottom of the ship for the water line and available air, having to wrench open the heavy metal doors to get there. For two days, up to their necks in water and oil they fought for survival. My dad had taken off his belt and used the buckle to pound on the inside of the hull to alert those on the outside of their whereabouts. Finally, on Tuesday morning, December 2, 1941, at approximately 2:30 in the morning, hearing my dad’s banging, men in a passing boat found the men. They were cut out of the hull by the light of the burning Arizona. And I am told, a torch could not be used because it could set fire to the oil in the water, so another method was use. Unfortunately, by the time they were able to reach the men, only two of the five remained alive, my dad and a mate. Dad was the last of only 32 survivors from the USS Oklahoma.
The folks at home had no idea of dad’s fate for about six weeks. He went from the Oklahoma to the military hospital for an unknown length of time. His girlfriend, my mother, and his dad checked frequently at the local post office for any news.
In 1943, after Mom finally agreed to marry dad, they became one when he was on military leave that year. Dad lived to fight other close calls in that war. I was born in 1947.
I can’t imagine the horror it must have felt like to be 23 years old, sinking with your ship and the struggle to survive, men dying around you. I don’t know if I could have handled it. But it gave dad the philosophy that each new day of life was a gift. Dad passed in 1993.
Thank you to all veterans of all wars who fight to preserve our blessed way of life