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Reflections on Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2020
Weekly Columns

This week marks 79 years since the devastating surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which former President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “the date which will live in infamy.” It was this event that officially drew the United States into the Second World War. As we remember the 2,403 innocent Americans lost that day at Pearl Harbor, we also gratefully reflect on the millions more who courageously joined together to defend the United States and our allies and ultimately end the WWII conflict nearly four years later.

When I think about the American losses at Pearl Harbor, I am always reminded of the battleship in the bay that proudly bore the name “U.S.S. Oklahoma.” As you might know, this ship was one of the first struck unexpectedly by Japanese torpedoes, the force of which caused the ship to roll over and sink deep into the harbor. Hundreds of service members were trapped in the overturned wreckage. Some were able to be cut free while others swam out to safety. Sadly, despite the daring efforts of Navy Yard employees and sailors to save their fellow service members, the damage was staggering. Aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, 429 marines and sailors were lost – a death toll second only to the losses of the U.S.S. Arizona.

Moved by the compelling accounts of survivors more than five decades after the U.S.S. Oklahoma was destroyed, an effort was rightly initiated to preserve and honor the memory of the ship and its crew by creating a memorial. As part of that process, 15 years ago, I was proud to insert language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorized construction of this memorial at Pearl Harbor, which was officially opened to visitors 13 years ago this week.

While we reflect on the tremendous bravery and sacrifice of Americans at Pearl Harbor, during World War II and other conflicts throughout our nation’s history, we are reminded of the ongoing need to prioritize a strong national defense in order to keep the United States and its citizens safe. A critical component includes passing the NDAA. This annual legislation authorizes funding for our national defense, including the programs and resources needed to keep our nation safe and to support our men and women in uniform. As the home to several military installations, our state certainly recognizes the importance of providing for a strong national defense.

Thanks to the incredible leadership of Oklahoma’s own Senator Jim Inhofe, I am encouraged that both chambers of Congress are closing in on approving a final version of NDAA for this year and sending it to the president’s desk. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, he certainly understands what we have faced in the past and the importance of strengthening our nation’s military readiness into the future. I will continue to work with him to support the interests and needs of the nation’s active duty service members, military families, retirees and Department of Defense workers.