Seventy-nine years ago, Imperial Japanese forces attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. One of the greatest casualties of that infamous day was the battleship USS Oklahoma, which capsized following multiple torpedo strikes. The 429 sailors and Marines who died aboard represented the second-greatest loss of life on that day, and the loss of that ship remains one of our Navy’s most significant tragedies. It was my honor to be a part of the effort to construct a proper memorial to USS Oklahoma and her crew at Pearl Harbor, and the installation of a painting in her memory at the state Capitol.
But the history of our nation is not only in the setbacks we have suffered, but the way we have responded. Imperial Japan thought the attack on Pearl Harbor would shatter our resolve. It had the opposite effect, galvanizing the nation and spurring our naval victory in the Pacific after four long years of war. Today, our Navy and Marine Corps protect the legacy of that victory, and the peace and prosperity that have characterized the Pacific for the past 75 years. We stand ready to protect our nation and our allies, at sea, ashore, in the air and under the waves.
If the lessons of Pearl Harbor teach us anything, it is that we cannot become complacent. China and Russia are constructing ships and weapons as never before, while demonstrating a dangerous contempt for international law and the freedom of the sea. This nation remains the world’s premier naval power, but to stay ahead, we must continue to invest and build for the future. That is why we are investing in the ships, facilities and personnel needed to ensure that our sailors and Marines will always have the upper hand.
We are continuing to expand our fleet toward the goal of 355 ships, and expanding our reach in the Arctic, the Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic. As we keep the memory of the first USS Oklahoma in our hearts, we are preparing to build the next USS Oklahoma — a next-generation nuclear submarine that will enhance our strategic power for decades to come. As we remember the great aircraft carriers that brought our nation back from Pearl Harbor to the victory at Midway, we are preparing to send USS Gerald Ford, the most powerful warship ever seen, out into the fleet to redefine air power at sea. And as we remember the sneak attack that caught us by surprise in 1941, we’re sharpening our defense of the homeland through innovations like the use of destroyers like USS John Finn to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles in flight.
Around the clock and around the world, our people stand the watch, with the memory of Pearl Harbor in our hearts and tomorrow’s threats squarely in our sights. We will never lose sight of our mission, or relent in our defense of the United States of America.
Slavonic, of Oklahoma City, is undersecretary of the Navy.