Oklahoma Veteran Returns To Pearl Harbor After 75 Years
TULSA, Oklahoma - One Tulsa man has made it his life's mission to tell the story of Pearl Harbor. Arles Cole has spoken at countless schools, clubs and retirement homes.
And in the process, befriended a man who made it his mission to take Arles back to Pearl Harbor for one final visit.
"Yes, this is the West Virginia here," Arles Cole said.
Arles Cole is now 92 years old and makes his home at the University Village Retirement Center in south Tulsa. But when the talk turns to Pearl Harbor, he's 17 again - an Oklahoma farm boy newly assigned to the USS West Virginia.
"It was the newest battleship in the Pacific fleet," Arles said.
On the morning of December 7th, 1941, Arles had just stepped out on the navigation bridge in search of breakfast, when the first plume of black smoke rose in the horizon. The 1,400 men of the West Virginia were ordered to battle stations.
"I saw these guys yelling - we're under attack," he said. "I ran down - slid down the hand rails and slid all the way down to the main deck - then three decks below."
And but for the hand of God, Arles believes that's where his story would have ended.
"The last thing I saw before the lights went out was oil and water," he said. "Two big squirts of it, coming through the side of the ship.
"I was trapped."
The West Virginia took seven torpedoes and two bombs before sinking to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. One of those bombs was a dud.
It hit the ship just feet away from Arles Cole of Porum, Oklahoma and created a hole that allowed him to crawl outside. That saved his life and sent him into the madness of battle.
"There were dead men floating in the harbor. It was a horrible scene," Arles said. "You just can't believe what our people, our men,have gone through. And I'm just one of them. Just one."
Terry Hood: "Have you forgiven the Japanese?"
Arles Cole: "Oh I did many years ago. I had to. That's me. That's within me."
For Arles, part of that forgiveness has come from telling his story - at schools, churches, movie theaters. Sharing his part of the two hours that changed America became not just his passion, but his calling.
"I was sent to do this by God himself as far as I was concerned," he said. He wants young people to know the importance of standing up and doing your part.
That is where University Village owner Matt Gawey came into the picture. Matt's father was also a veteran of that terrible war. One who never shared his story.
Through Arles, Matt knew he had a mission here as well.
"Two years ago, I told Arles, if you're able, we're going to Pearl Harbor," Gawey said. "We're going to have a ball. Take your kids, and we're all going."
This week, those two years of planning are taking flight. As far as Arles knows, he'll be the only Oklahoma survivor represented at Pearl Harbor on this 75th anniversary. He expects to be met with the full force of history.
Terry Hood: "Will those feelings come back?"
Arles Cole: "Yes. And they're beautiful. They're beautiful."
And we're told it's been a trip of a lifetime.
Matt sent us a video of a Pearl Harbor tour he took with Arles and other Pearl Harbor survivors. And, Arles also got a chance to meet Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, who were in Hawaii to pay tribute to the incredible sacrifices and heroism shown on this day 75 years ago.