by Jill Holt, Curator of Textiles
I recently had one of those “I love my job” moments. We have several United States flags in our collection that are purported to be the “last” flag flown on the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma. I was pleased to discover that we do indeed have the last one.
The U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37) was moored on battleship row at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. It was struck by Japanese torpedoes and quickly capsized with 429 sailors and Marines losing their lives. The ship was righted and placed in dry dock in 1943. Its superstructure and guns were removed prior to the decommission ceremony that was held on September 1, 1944.
As I unrolled the red, white, and blue wool bunting 48 star flag, I was thrilled when I saw markings on the canvas hoist edge. Stamped on the canvas was “Mare Island, February 1944.” Written in ink was “Last flag to fly on the U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37), September 1, 1944, S.S. Isquith U.S. Navy Commander, Commanding.” Lt. Commander Solomon S. Isquith was the engineer officer on board the U.S.S. Utah on December 7, 1941 when it was sunk at Pearl Harbor. After the Japanese attack, he was placed in charge of salvage operations at Pearl Harbor and he presided over the decommission ceremony for the U.S.S. Oklahoma in 1944. He stated, “Today the life of a ship will come to an end – as a combat vessel – after 35 years of honorable service in all areas of the world. We will be sorry to leave her.”
The last flag to fly on the U.S.S. Oklahoma was presented in 1945 to Governor Robert S. Kerr who in turn gave it over to the Oklahoma Historical Society. It remains safely in our care today.