Seventy-nine years ago a young man from Carter County reported for duty aboard the USS Oklahoma, docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
What was likely seen as a dream deployment for Billy Turner at the time quickly turned into a nightmare as Japanese airplanes swarmed the tropical paradise in a surprise attack that killed more than 2,300 Americans, injuring another 1,000.
Turner was one of the 429 seamen to die aboard the USS Oklahoma that fateful December morning.
Throughout Carter County, Turner’s sacrifice and his legacy continues to be honored. Turner Street was named after the young man, and the mural that adorns The Ardmoreite includes a depiction of the Nevada Class battleship where Turner made the ultimate sacrifice. Turner also retains a position of honor inside the Greater Southwestern Historical Museum.
“This is the reason the USS Oklahoma is in the mural on the side of The Ardmoreite building,”Adm. Wesley Hull said. “He was the first recorded casualty from Carter County and a plaque in his memory remains in Hawaii.”
Hull said the mural and the Hall of Honor within the museum are a critical reminder of Carter County’s contributions to America’s war efforts.
“Ardmore should be very proud (of the USS Oklahoma) it’s named after our state,” Hull said.
Hull said Carter County’s connection to Pearl Harbor extends beyond Turner. Fellow seaman and Carter County resident Delbert Black was stationed on the USS Maryland, moored abreast to the USS Oklahoma that morning in Hawaii.
“The Maryland was tied up to the dock, the Oklahoma was tied up abreast of her,” Hull said. “The Maryland and Delbert Black were probably saved by the Oklahoma, because they (the Japanese) got the Oklahoma but they didn’t get the inboard ship.”
Black would go on to serve his country and Carter County well, being named the first Master Chief Petty Officer of the United States Navy and having an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer christened in his honor in 2017.
According to historical accounts, the USS Maryland received light damage in the attack and went on to serve notably in the battles of Midway and Okinawa, taking a direct hit from a kamikaze attack in the latter, surviving two such attacks and a torpedo hit before ending her service to the country in Operation Magic Carpet, returning US service men and women from the European, Pacific and Asian theaters of war.
“We have somebody from this area on that one (Turner on the Oklahoma) save somebody (Black on the Maryland) from this area,” Hull said.
The military wing of the Greater Southwestern History Museum contains a plethora of relics saved and returned from the battlefields that Oklahoma residents have fought and died on for generations.
Those items include the guns and various tools of war used to the very uniforms worn by Carter County’s bravest men and women.
But probably the most unique aspect of the museum is the guided tours provided by surviving veterans offering insight and anecdotes from their time in the service. And with different volunteers, no two tours are guaranteed to be the same.