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)

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