PEARL HARBOR (NNS - 12/2/2011) -- USS Oklahoma (BB 37) sank in
Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attacks Dec. 7, 1941, taking more
than 400 crew members with her.
Rescue crews work on the upturned hull of the 29,000-ton battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) Dec. 8, 1941. The ship capsized after being struck by Japanese warplanes during the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Holes were burned through the hull to permit the rescue of some of the men trapped below. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives
Seaman Apprentice Gene Dick was one of 32 Sailors who survived the
He was performing routine tasks in sick bay that
Sunday morning when the battle alarm sounded and the officer of the
deck announced that it was not a drill.
Dick was preparing to
assist injured personnel at his battle station in triage when the
first torpedo hit.
"[It] just picked that ship up, and shook
it like that, and slammed it down into the water," said Dick.
By the time he had picked himself up from the ground, the second
torpedo hit and shook the ship again. When the water started pouring
in, Dick and another Sailor left their station and headed aft in
order to reach the open deck and escape the ship. They made it to a
supply berthing, where they were about to make it outside the skin
of the ship, as it continued to roll.
"When we got about
three people from the door,
water started pouring in through the hatch and just knocked us over
and over and over," said Dick.
Dick said he then began climbing bunks to escape the
"By that time the ship had turned
completely over," said Dick. "I didn't know it, of course. I
was absolutely disoriented. It felt like hours later, but it
wasn't that long, I ended up in an air pocket between the
deck and the bulkhead."
Temporarily safe, Dick said
he then took in his surroundings to figure out what to do
"Full of salt water and fuel oil; and I
couldn't see a thing," said Dick. "It was black, black,
black, dark, dark. There were bodies floating all around me.
Then I saw a light back in the back."
found a battle lantern, and Dick could hear some voices so
he swam in that direction. They started talking about how to
"We didn't even know which way was up," said
Dick. "We just knew we were in an air pocket. Somebody found
Still disoriented, the Sailors did not
know if the porthole went inside or outside the ship.
"I decided by then I didn't care," said Dick. "I was
going to go through that porthole, because I was just as
dead out there as I was in here."
Some people made it
through the small porthole easily, while others needed help.
Dick was fifth in line to get out.
"We'd been down
there for about four hours then," said Dick. "We didn't know
it. We were scared to death, you know."
to exit the porthole feet first, but his clothing got caught
and he came back in to try again.
"I said well I'll
try to go out head first," said Dick. "I took off my skivvy
shirt and headed down. I got down. I could get one shoulder
through, then the other shoulder through.
"I took a
deep breath and got down and started through, and my shorts
caught. It was only a 21 inch porthole, but I got my hands
on the outside and pushed; the guys pushed on me. And
finally my shorts ripped off," said Dick.
as soon as he hit the open water he began swimming upward.
"We were down about 50 feet deep in the depths of Pearl
Harbor," said Dick. "I swam and swam and swam and finally
got to the surface. There was burning fuel oil all around
Dick was rescued by a motor whaleboat crew who
picked him up from the water and took him to get medical
Dick's day started in sick bay, where he was
caring for others, but ended in the hospital, where he was
one of many receiving treatment.
He finished his Navy
career 22 years later as a chief warrant officer in the
medical service. He said he is grateful for every moment he
has had since Pearl Harbor.
"So I've been living on
borrowed time for about 70 years," said Dick.
By Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Peggy Trujillo
Navy News Service
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