There’s a lot to take in and reflect on when at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.
There’s the USS Arizona Memorial (one of the most visited sites), the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin Museum, and a plaza full of other worthwhile sites.
But one moving site that often goes overlooked is the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
Below, I’ll talk about what this memorial is and how you can visit it.
Table of Contents
What is the USS Oklahoma Memorial?
Dedicated on December 7, 2007, the USS Oklahoma Memorial is a memorial to all of the sailors and marines who lost their life aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attacks of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
It is free to visit but you will have to board a shuttle bus from the Pearl Harbor National Memorial & Visitor Center or have an escort to get to it since it is located on a military base.
Where is the USS Oklahoma Memorial?
The USS Oklahoma Memorial is located on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. It’s found just before you arrive at the entrance to the USS Missouri but it can be easily missed.
That’s because on both of my bus rides to Ford Island, none of the drivers mentioned the memorial and sort of just ushered everyone towards either the “Mighty Mo” or the bathrooms.
I’m not sure if that was just the standard procedure or if they do that to avoid having too many tourists wandering off but if you’re not aware of this memorial you may not even realize it exists when you make your trip to Ford Island.
The way to see the USS Oklahoma Memorial is to exit the tour bus and then basically walk in the opposite direction of the USS Missouri. You’ll see the white posts of this memorial on your right which is really hard to miss.
Notice the USS Missouri in the background of the image below. That’s how close it is.
Related: Pearl Harbor Ultimate Guide
USS Oklahoma background
The USS Oklahoma was launched March 23, 1914 and over the years she served in many important capacities.
She protected allied convoys in Ireland during World War I, transported President Wilson to and from Paris during the Paris Peace negotiations, and helped evacuate refugees during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
After that, she made her way to the Pacific where she would spend the rest of her time in service.
On December 7, 1941 during the surprise attack of Pearl Harbor, the USS Oklahoma sustained at least eight torpedo hits within the first 10 minutes of the bombardment.
A ninth would probably later hit the battleship as she completely capsized, trapping over 400 crewmen inside.
At the time of the torpedo hits, the USS Oklahoma was moored in the location of where the USS Missouri is currently berthed, which is why the memorial is located where it is.
On the day of the attacks, there were 2,402 US deaths. 1,177 occurred on the USS Arizona but the ship with the second highest casualty count was the USS Oklahoma with 429 deaths.
The damage to the USS Oklahoma was so bad after the attack that the Navy realized they could not salvage the entire ship and would have to settle for salvaging individual parts.
But even that process would be a massive undertaking.
For 15 months, the ship remained capsized until in March of 1943 when she was righted.
The hull was then sold in 1946 to a private buyer in California who wanted to salvage it but shortly after the ship was being towed its tow line broke and the ship sank about 500 miles away from Oahu to its final resting place.
Later on in 2006, a mast leg from the USS Oklahoma was found at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and it’s on display in Oklahoma at Muskogee War Memorial Park.
The ship’s bell and two of her screws are also on display but at the Kirkpatrick Science Museum in Oklahoma City.
As for all of the crewmen remains in the ship, those were collected from December 1941 through June 1944.
Only 35 men were identified out of the 429 killed.
The nearly 400 identified remains were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (“the Punchbowl”) in Honolulu.
However, recent efforts to identify many of those unknown remains were successful and it’s reported that 388 individuals have now been identified, which is 86% of the crew that was aboard the vessel at the time.
Experiencing the USS Oklahoma Memorial
Unlike the USS Arizona Memorial where you will need to schedule a time on the shuttle boat and deal with a much busier tourist scene, there’s a good chance when you visit this memorial, you’ll be all by yourself.
That’s how it was for me and I think that’s why this memorial hit a little bit harder for me than the Arizona Memorial — there were just fewer distractions.
At first glance, the memorial looks like rows of white picket fence randomly placed near the road leading to the USS Missouri.
But then as I approached the memorial and took a moment to read one of the interpretive panels, I realized what those white posts, called “standards,” actually were.
The white marble standards are symbolic of sailors “manning the rails” or standing at attention along the ships railing and superstructure as it passes through Pearl Harbor. It’s a sign of both honor and respect.
Each individual white standard represents one of the sailors lost on the USS Oklahoma Memorial.
Their name and rank is inscribed along with a designation of whether they were a part of the Navy or Marines.
Two of the standards have a special star designation indicating that they were medal of honor recipients.
The best way to experience this memorial is not to view it from the roadside but to walk through it.
These posts form several walkways and as you quietly roam through this memorial, it’s kind of impossible for the 429 white standards to not impact you in someway.
Each one of those is a tribute to a story that was cut short the day of the attacks and that sticks with you as you make your way through the memorial.
There’s a reflective black wall of names that is reminiscent of the Vietnam Memorial that took me back to our time in Washington DC. The black granite is meant to be symbolic of the ship’s hull.
You’ll also find lots of relevant quotes on different sections of the memorial from various sources including President Lincoln, the Bible, Shakespeare, and a survivor from the attack, George Brown.
The USS Oklahoma Memorial could easily be missed but it’s a must visit when in Pearl Harbor.
It’s a well done memorial and because of the nonexistent crowds, it offers a more intimate experience when reflecting on those who lost their life in Pearl Harbor.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.