Story by PO2 Daniel Lanari on 06/10/2018About an hour after morning chow, at 7:55 a.m. to be exact, Japanese dive bombers, fighter bombers, and torpedo planes swarmed the western horizon like a locusts in a plague, dropping bombs and torpedoes on the "Battleship Row" at Pearl Harbor. Aboard the USS Oklahoma, the general alarm bell and the Officer of the Day call sounded over the announcer "all hands, man your battle stations," as the attack began. But within 60 seconds, at 7:56 a.m., the Oklahoma was hit with three torpedoes on its port side. The entire ship began to lean, as tables, desks, shelves, and light bulbs fell and crashed against the bulkheads. Six more torpedoes would hit the same port side before the order to abandon ship was sent out over the 1-main circuit (1-MC) announcing system, but by that time many of the compartments had flooded, and trapped those men who were unfortunate enough to be caught within them.
In a matter of minutes, USS Oklahoma suffered 9 direct torpedo hits, causing it to list rapidly while taking on water, and capsize before 8:08 a.m., all in a mere 12 minutes.
Amid the chaos and carnage, Lt. Cmdr. Hugh Rossman Alexander, the Senior Officer on board the Oklahoma that day, was trapped in one of the mid-ship compartments with numerous crew members while on his way to his own battle station. A mustang officer (a military term used to describe a prior enlisted sailor), Alexander was a Dental Corps Officer who had more than 20 years of military service under his belt. But in these critical moments, his leadership experience instinctively kicked in. After quickly assessing the situation, Alexander turned to the ship's chaplain, Lt.j.g. Aloysius H. Schmitt, who was also trapped in the compartment and calmly said, "Well, chaplain, we only have a few minutes to live. Let's get as many men out of here as we can." The only way out of the rapidly flooded space was through a 14-inch porthole. He helped push several sailors through the narrow opening who were able to swim to safety while the capsized Oklahoma sank, carrying with her a crew of 429 sailors and marines, including Alexander, who stared down death to save his shipmates' lives.
Alexander's heroism was once more recounted in a solemn, intimate ceremony on April 2, 2018, in a small chapel on Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, Calif. Seventy-seven years after that fateful day in 1941, the Department of the Navy posthumously awarded Lt. Cmdr. Alexander the Silver Star Medal to recognize his heroic actions, an upgrade from the Navy and Marine Corps Medal originally awarded in 1944, after an extensive and thorough review of historical evidence and written reports. Rear Adm. Gayle D. Shaffer, Chief Navy Dental Corps, presented the Silver Star Medal, the United States Armed Services third-highest personal decoration for valor, along with a United States flag that was flown over the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, to Lt. Cmdr. Alexander's only daughter, Ms. Gloria Rogers, a Coronado, Calif. resident.
"Lt. Cmdr. Alexander was long ago recognized with a Navy and Marine Corp Medal for his actions on Dec. 7, 1941," said Rear Adm. Shaffer. "But ask the men who were saved by Hugh Alexander and they will tell you that his deeds warrant a much higher military recognition, and today we have opportunity to set the record straight."
Along with Adm. Shaffer, were several Dental Corp Officers and enlisted Sailors filling in the front sections of the chapel pews. All came to this solemn ceremony to pay homage to a World War II hero, and especially one from their own career field.
"Seventy-seven years later, the story of his sacrifice humbles and inspires all who hear it," continued Rear Adm. Shaffer. "By presenting Lt. Cmdr. Alexander's family with the Silver Star Medal that he earned, a grateful nation remembers his courage."