On Monday afternoon, February 15, Tony Ramirez, Phil “PC” Smith, and myself were able to access the Oklahoma City down at the Victory Pier on the other side of Ford Island. Stripped of her 5" mount, Talos launcher, and all exterior items such as life boats and fire equipment, she did not look as lovely as I remembered her when I left Yokosuka in the summer of ’73. Her paint had once been a rich haze-gray, but now it was chalky and faded,almost white. Her remaining turret was centerline, and the 6" barrels were plugged with cement. The deck was stripped of all the teak, and rust bled everywhere.
But we were there to see her off, and except for the absence of a W.W.II shipmate, her crew was well represented. PC stood in for all those below decks in engineering that made it possible for her to get to where the action was, and helped her heartbeat remain strong. Having stood shore-bombardment watches, I represented the old way of making war - conventional guns, rapid-fire and state-of-the-art in their day, but now hopelessly outmoded. Tony fired the Talos missiles, the armament of the future which bought her time, and kept her from her sister ships’ fate - the salvager’s torch. He also served on her the last two years before her decommissioning in 1979. And so it was the old, the new, and the heartbeat. Every metaphor fit her this day.
PC busied himself searching for a few last artifacts for the museum in Oklahoma City. Tony and I headed below decks with flashlights and a video camera. The mess decks were a wreck, most spaces stripped or trashed, and many hatches chained or welded shut. But we persevered, and found our old berthing compartments - his, where gunnery and the missilemen slept (4th deck, aft) and mine, where X-division and the scullery crew turned in at night (3rd deck, aft by the laundry). The bunks had been removed, but each of us found the exact spots where we had slept. Amazingly, Tony’s locker was still present, and the fan over my bunk which rattled and kept me awake was still in place. The ship’s laundry was trashed. Back in the aft crew’s head, the sound of running water could be heard beyond the bulkheads. The old girl was taking on water...
Later we all met on the bridge. It had been trashed, but the words “USS Oklahoma City - CG-5” remained inset into the linoleum as you walked on from the central passageway. I stood in the same spot I stood, in helmet and flak jacket, the night we entered Haiphong Harbor. PC recounted how he and the engine room crew got the ship up to 34 knots for our hasty ‘departure’. We gazed down on the broad, flat top of the remaining turret, and its faded "5" still faced the sky boldly. And I couldn’t resist sitting in the Captain’s chair. Didn’t the scavengers know that Captain Tice would have had us keel-hauled for sitting on the sacred throne? But many years stand between those days and today.
The afternoon had passed quickly, and we had yet to finish up one last piece of business. I had brought along a copy of a poem and some pictures. One was a large color print of her in her “Christmas” glory (remember the 6" guns-turned-candy canes?), another of a Talos missile in flight, one of X-division (got that one off the web site), and a few personal photos. Being laminated, they should endure “the briny” until after we are all gone. It took a lot of duct tape to get these items secured to the chalky paint on the port side of the turret. After each of us signed off an “Aloha” and penned the words “Rest in peace - your crew will miss you”, we took a few last pictures, and called it a day.
The next morning, February 16th, we were back at the pier, and watched as the USS Naganasset, an enormous ocean-going tug, hooked her up and began the long journey to Guam. We took some more photos, PC and Tony caught a quick interview with a local reporter, and then we quickly drove around to the Pearl Harbor Naval Base by the Officer’s Club to catch her as she left the
channel one last time. We stood at the entrance and watched until she passed the reef. It was fitting that the morning sun reflected brightly off her port beam. Sail on, old girl. You served your country well. We’ll miss you.