Honolulu, HI (WXOW)- The Japanese sunk or severely damaged 21 Navy vessels moored in Pearl Harbor; among them the USS Oklahoma. The "Okie" took at least six torpedo hits and capsized. More than 400 sailors and marines died in her hull. Herb Meyer was one of the lucky ones. His two best friends were not.
The white marble standards of the Oklahoma memorial represent its lost marines and sailors. 429 in all. In full dress whites, standing at attention, manning the rails of the Oklahoma, forever. Herb Meyer knew many of them by name. Two remain close to his heart. "Goway was his last name. Johnson was another one." Herb's best friends, who on December 7th, 1941 ran out of air long before they ran out of courage. "They stayed down there. They were stationed on the 14 magazines. They supplied ammo to the gun chambers above. They were trapped down there and they held the lights for the others to.... So they could get out."
Claude Goway and Edward Johnson saved the lives of countless men but no one could save them. "You could hear those guys thumping." Firman Balza was among the sailors who tried. "We finally got 32 of them out. We smothered some and drown some. We did what we had to do because we had no other alternatives."
Rescuers and the men trapped in the Oklahoma's hull helpless. "You talk about getting shot in the head; piece of cake. But can you imagine being stuck in a hole and waiting for the grim reaper to catch up with you and you've got no chance. Talk about hells on earth girl. You're talking about it.
Unlike the friends he lost, Herb was on deck when the Okie began to list. He escaped by swimming to the nearby Maryland; uninjured at least physically. "They're buried at the Punch Bowl. Two of them won congressional medals." Herb recalls. The loss of his friends stings just as badly today as it did 70 years ago.
A salvage crew rolled the Oklahoma upright in 1943 and stripped her of her guns. She sank while being towed to the mainland in 1947. It wasn't until 2007 that a memorial in Pearl Harbor was dedicated in her honor.