USA — Veterans’ Reflections: The Crew of the USS Oklahoma City

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2010 — On Sept. 2, 1945, Japan­ese For­eign Affairs Min­is­ter Mamoru Shigemit­su board­ed the USS Mis­souri to sign the Japan­ese instru­ment of sur­ren­der, effec­tive­ly end­ing fight­ing on the Pacif­ic front in World War II.

USS Oklahoma City
Crew mem­bers from the USS Okla­homa City pose for a pho­to at the World War II Memo­r­i­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Aug. 26, 2010. Left to right: Ray Palum­bo, Frank Zac­caro, Ralph Alfaro, Bill Crouch and Fred Kapinos.
DOD pho­to by Doug Moss
Click to enlarge

Off the coast of Japan, the USS Okla­homa City was hunt­ing for mines, clear­ing a path for the even­tu­al occu­pa­tion of Japan. Short­ly there­after, crewmem­bers of the Okla­homa City were among the first U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers to vis­it Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki after the cities had been destroyed by atom­ic bombs. 

“The peo­ple were still ban­daged up. Every­thing was just demol­ished,” Ray Palum­bo said. “It was very emotional.” 

Palum­bo, Frank Zac­cha­ro, Ralph Alfaro, Bill Crouch and Fred Kapanos all joined the Navy in 1944, serv­ing togeth­er as the first crew of the Okla­homa City. Now all 84 years old, the five men looked back on their role in his­to­ry with fond­ness and respect for their for­mer ene­mies. The dam­age inflict­ed by the atom bomb is one seared into their memories. 

“I would­n’t say it was good, but it was a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty [to see Hiroshi­ma],” Zac­cha­ro said. “It’s some­thing that’s still vivid in my memory.” 

“It left a big, big impres­sion on me,” Alfaro added. 

By 1944, the war in the Pacif­ic was in full swing. Amer­i­can forces were fight­ing in the Philip­pine and Palau islands and work­ing to build air­fields on Saipan, with­in B‑29 range of Tokyo. For years, Amer­i­cans had been hear­ing about the wars in Europe and the Pacif­ic, and many young men were chomp­ing at the bit to get into the fight. 

For some, being draft­ed into the Army at 18 was all the oppor­tu­ni­ty they need­ed. Alfaro said he had a dif­fer­ent idea in mind as his 18th birth­day approached. 

“At that time, when you were 18, you got draft­ed right into the Army,” he said. “When I was 17, I decid­ed I did­n’t want to walk. I said to myself, ‘I got­ta get into some­thing where I don’t have to walk, [where] I can ride on some­thing.’ So I joined the Navy. I could­n’t wait to get in. Patri­o­tism was run­ning through my blood.” 

Over the pre­vi­ous three years, the images in news­pa­pers and sto­ries told in radio broad­casts had­n’t pre­pared the young sailors for what they’d see as they pre­pared to set sail across the Pacif­ic Ocean. 

“It was­n’t until we left Pearl Har­bor in 1944 to head out to the Pacif­ic when com­ing into Pearl Har­bor was an air­craft car­ri­er called the USS Franklin that had just been bombed by kamikaze planes,” Zac­cha­ro said. “That was when I real­ized the real­i­ty of being in this war, and believe me, I was scared.” 

The men said fear was­n’t a neg­a­tive feel­ing. Rather, they explained, it helped them to under­stand the grav­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion. Kapanos said what ser­vice­mem­bers endure today is every bit as daunt­ing as what he saw in the 1940s, if not more so. 

“We salute the young peo­ple serv­ing today. They’re doing their share of what needs to be done,” he said. “We can only give them a lot of cred­it and keep them in our prayers.”

The Okla­homa City sup­port­ed the cam­paign in Oki­nawa and screened 3rd Fleet air­craft car­ri­ers dur­ing inten­si­fied air oper­a­tions as Allied forces grew near­er to Japan. 

The Okla­homa City crew was very for­tu­nate to be part of the fleet arriv­ing to accept Japan’s sur­ren­der, Crouch said. While so many in the world cel­e­brat­ed the Allied vic­to­ry in the Pacif­ic, he and his com­rades got to expe­ri­ence the sur­ren­der first-hand and take part in the begin­nings of sub­se­quent Amer­i­can pres­ence in Japan. 

“The pride that we came out vic­to­ri­ous, and to see our nation lead the world — that can’t be replaced,” Crouch said. “[We were] younger fel­lows at the time [who] shared our ser­vice to obtain that victory.” 

The ship was relieved at the end of Jan­u­ary 1946 and returned to the Unit­ed States with its crew. 

(“Vet­er­ans’ Reflec­tions” is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries of men and women who served their coun­try in World War II, the Kore­an War, the Viet­nam War, oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day con­flicts. They will be post­ed through­out Novem­ber in hon­or of Vet­er­ans Day.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →