On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Ensign Francis Flaherty began his morning duties like everybody else aboard the USS Oklahoma, which was tied up along “Battleship Row” with the rest of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet battleships in Pearl Harbor.
It was a sunny morning, much of the ship’s crew were still in their sleeping quarters, others were beginning their morning in the usual ways traditional to the Navy. Some were preparing for leave off of the ship, others were preparing for Sunday morning services.
Then all hell broke loose.
The first wave of the Japanese surprise attack caught everyone off guard. Within short order ships were burning, keeling over and sinking. The USS Oklahoma was struck seven times with Japanese torpedoes dropped from the attacking Japanese air forces. The Oklahoma was filling with water fast, was on fire and keeling over. The electrical system had been knocked out over the entire ship.
Down below, Ensign Flaherty, then just 22 years old, grabbed a flashlight in the darkness and began to guide his crew down the darkened passageway toward an exit.
Don Colizzi, an American Legion member says of Flaherty, “He shined a flashlight on the corridor exit and pushed his crewmates to safety. Saved a lot of lives. Stayed at his station without abandoning ship, even though there was an order to abandon ship.”
John Flaherty, Ensign Flaherty’s brother said, “He essentially illumined the way for his crew because electrical power was lost in the ship immediately.”
We can only imagine what it was like below decks on the Oklahoma in those terrifying moments. The sounds of attacking planes, the explosions from bombs and torpedoes, the return fire from the ship, along with the sounds of the inrushing water and the shouts and orders being given in the darkness. But Ensign Flaherty did what needed to be done in the midst of the chaos in his small section of that great ship as it was keeling over so quickly from the mortal wounds it was receiving from one torpedo after another.
Ensign Flaherty went down with the ship that day. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
While many of the remains of those who died that day were recovered in the months that followed the Pearl Harbor attack, only a small number of them were able to be identified. A total of 429 USS Oklahoma crewmembers were killed in action that day. The majority of the unidentified remains were buried at the National Cemetery in Hawaii.
Francis Flaherty was born in 1919. It would be 100 years later, some 68 years after his death that his remains would finally be identified on September 30, 2019. They were identified by the ongoing efforts of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency through the technologies that have been recently developed in chromosomal DNA and more modern anthropological analysis. His remains were then able to be repatriated to his home town of Charlotte, Michigan, last fall.
As you will hear in this video from that time, his interment was being delayed until this summer (2021) because of the Covid pandemic. I was unable to find out if that internment has occurred as yet.
The Veterans Site wishes to offer both its condolences to the Flaherty family and to express our humble respect for the selfless and uncompromising heroism that Ensign Francis Flaherty showed on behalf of his fellow crewmembers while under intense fire and chaos during the attack on Pearl Harbor and on his ship, the USS Oklahoma. We are glad to know that he has made it home. We will never forget.Whizzco