By Dan Bewley and NewsOn6.com
MUSKOGEE, OK -- A 45-foot piece of the World War II battleship USS Oklahoma traveled from Hawaii to the Muskogee War Memorial this week. On Wednesday, the historic wreckage was offloaded by members of the Air National Guard.
"Honestly I didn't think we were going to get it here but now that it's here it's real," said Rick Dennis, Muskogee War Memorial Park. "It's just very exciting."
Vietnam veteran Wesley Benge was at the tribute in honor of his uncle who served as a cook on the USS Oklahoma. His uncle was able to jump free of the Oklahoma during the attack and survived the bombing.
"To have something come here like this, it's a piece of something Oklahoma should cherish," Benge said.
Jim Gailey also has fond memories of the Oklahoma. He was aboard the USS Helena in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. He says the mast has a story to tell. One of dedication, vulnerability, and sacrifice.
"The men who died there died for your freedom," Gailey said. "That's the way I feel about it."
The mast, which weighs more than 22,000 pounds, was found during dredging operations around Pearl Harbor in 2006. It had remained underwater since the USS Oklahoma was sunk by Japanese bombs and torpedoes on December 7, 1941 in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
"What a way to honor those servicemen who served on the USS Oklahoma, who lived and died, and it's just a great feeling for Muskogee," said State Representative George Faught, Muskogee.
Air National Guard members gathered together some of the barnacles that came loose from the mast as it was being transported and handed them to the World War II veterans who came to witness the event.
The ship took 429 of her crew down with her when she capsized.
The mast will stay under wraps until next month's official dedication. The display is only a temporary one until the memorial can determine the best way to display it permanently. If you're interested in seeing the mast the memorial is open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
It will join the USS Batfish submarine which is on display at the memorial.