Time taking toll on Pearl Harbor survivors

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- There may not be many more reunions of shipmates who were aboard the USS Oklahoma that Dec. 7 when the battleship was torpedoed and capsized at Pearl Harbor.

"The youngest of us is 77," says Robert Carlson, who drove to Oklahoma City from Minnesota for the weekend reunion of survivors.

"It's getting hard, even to fly, let alone drive."

Last year alone, 21 survivors died. "Age is stopping us a great deal," he said.

Carlson and others still want at least one more reunion in 2001 for the 60th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack. More than 2,300 American servicemen were killed, including 429 aboard the Oklahoma.

"That day is a long ways back," said Carlson. "We'll always remember it. But we've softened up since."

Carlson, a musician, was on deck getting ready to play his saxophone for the morning flag salute.

"We saw one of the bombers fly over and thought it was the Army air command in practice," he said. "Then we saw the red ball on the plane and decided it was Japanese."

The Oklahoma was righted and later sold as scrap to a California company. As she was being towed in May 1947, the ship broke away from her tow line and sank in the Pacific.

A memorial to the Oklahoma was built in 1998 on the north lawn of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The survivors attending this year's reunion donated nearly $1,500 left over from the memorial to Raymond Washburn, a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing. Washburn was a blind operator of a snack bar on the fourth floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Washburn escaped unharmed, but now is taking care of his ailing wife.