It took 76 years but Hale McKissack is home. McKissack was on the USS Oklahoma on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He died in the attack as the sailors fought the rain of torpedoes and bombs from the Japanese naval aircraft. The USS Oklahoma was moored at Pear Harbor’s famous battleship row at the time of the attacks. The first torpedo struck the ship at 7:56 a.m. It is estimated that she was struck by a total of 8 torpedoes and sank within 12 minutes, rolling over on her port side until halted by her masts striking the bottom.
In that 12 minutes the sailors of the USS Oklahoma showed the world their mettle. Chief carpenter John Arnold Austin, who was trapped in the capsized vessel. He found a porthole beneath the surface that offered a way out and assisted 15 sailors in escaping. Austin himself wasn’t able to get out and perished in the ship. Austin was awarded the Navy Cross (posthumously) for his actions. The destroyer USS Austin, was named in his honor. Austin’s remains were recently identified in September of 2018, just as McKissack’s were.
John C. England was an ensign on the Oklahoma on that day and had just over a year of service under his belt. England survived the attacks but kept returning to help rescue other sailors. He made 3 successful rescue trips but perished during his fourth attempt. Two ships have been named for England, a destroyer, USS England (DE-635) and a guided missile cruiser, USS England (DLG-22). His remains were also identified in 2018 and returned home where he was buried alongside his parents.
Ensign Francis C. Flaherty was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on that day, in those same 12 minutes. When the abandon ship order was given Flaherty was in a turret and held a flashlight so that his crewmates could see to escape. He was on the vessel when it capsized and never made it out. Flaherty’s remains are interred in a mass grave marked, “Unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. The destroyer escort, USS Flaherty (DE-135) was commissioned in 1943 and named in Flaherty’s honor.
Seaman First Class James R. Ward was also awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack. Ward, like Flaherty, was in a turret when the abandon ship order was given. He too held a flashlight so that his crewmates could escape the doomed ship. He was still in the turret when the ship capsized. The destroyer, USS J. Richard Ward (DE-243), was named in his honor.
Father Aloysius Schmitt was on the Oklahoma and was the first American chaplain of any faith to die in World War II.
Three Navy and Marine Corps medals were awarded to sailors for actions during the attack. McKissack and his fellow sailors were devoted to their duty, their ship and to each other.
The sailors fought an attack by an overwhelming force without most of their weapons because the firing locks for the antiaircraft guns were locked in the ship’s armory. In those 12 minutes the sailors fought until the very end, manning guns and fighting fires to try and save their ship. They went from a peaceful Sunday morning to utter chaos in a matter of seconds. Many of the crewmen were just coming on duty or still in their racks when the attack commenced. But that didn’t slow them down. When the order to abandon ship was given the sailors helped each other get off of the ship, many sacrificing their lives to save others.
McKissack and the others on the Oklahoma proved that they were truly the Greatest Generation. In the end, 429 USS Oklahoma sailors died valiantly fighting their attackers.
McKissack’s funeral service was held on May 4th, 2019. Approximately 40 family members came to the service from various parts of the country. The Z.I. Hale museum treated them to a Texas-style barbeque lunch at the Rock Hotel in Winters.
Many of the family members shared their memories of McKissack and family stories. One of those present was his great-niece, Diane Ferguson, “Uncle Hale had been in the navy before World War II, a few years after the end of World War I. He had spent a several years in the Navy and then been honorably discharged. In 1941 he told his mother that was going to rejoin the navy because war was looming and he only needed a few more years to get a pension. He was tentatively identified in 1943 or so but they didn’t have DNA back then and his mother said that she wasn’t going to risk burying someone else’s son. So it’s great that they have DNA now where they can be sure of who they’re identifying.”
McKissack had a nephew who was serving on the USS Lexington and was wounded in the Battle of the Coral Sea.
The funeral left Lange Funeral Home in Ballinger at 1 p.m., escorted by law enforcement officers from the San Angelo police department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Ballinger police department and Runnels County Sheriff’s Office.
Ballinger City Manager Tommy Turney had bought cases of American flags and bottled water and paid to have Kettle Corn given to the public, “We don’t get the opportunity to thank these heroes very often and we wanted to do this right for Mr. McKissack. He earned it.”
Approximately 200 people were out waving flags and watching the funeral procession. The Ballinger Fire Department had their ladder truck out there with an American flag hanging from it. The funeral procession headed to Winters with the Winters police department and fire department joining in the escort. The town had come out with most of the public in front of the volunteer fire department. The procession turned down Dale Street and headed out to the Fairview cemetery with over 30 vehicles in the procession.
A Navy honor guard was at the cemetery along with sailors from the Naval detachment at Goodfellow Air Force base. Father Hubert Wade conducted the service and Rear Admiral Theodore P.S. Leclair spoke on behalf of the Navy. McKissack was given full military honors, including a 21-gun salute.
Admiral Leclair is the Deputy Commander of the United State’s 7th Fleet. Afterward Leclair spoke about honoring the men and women of World War II, “I actually happen to live in Austin. When we do these services and they identify remains, they send out a letter to all of the admirals saying that we need to do funeral honors and because he was killed in action, we wanted to provide him full honors. And because I’m a Texan, I wanted to be here as well. I give all of the credit to Congress and the Department of Defense because that’s the message that we don’t leave anybody behind and we never forget.”
Over 200 people attended the funeral service, including the Patriot Riders, Revolutionary War Re-Enactors and local veterans.