PEARL HARBOR — On this day, 78 years ago, the rising sun of the Empire of Japan went supernova, attacking on a front as wide as the Pacific Ocean itself in a bid to secure a fortress of islands.
One of the primary goals of Japan at this time was the decimation of the United States Pacific Naval Fleet, at anchor in the sleepy port of Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.
Twenty years before Japanese bombs would fall at Pearl Harbor, a child named Grant Cook, Jr. was born in Cozad on July 27, 1921, his parents were Grant Cook, Sr. and Hazel Cook.
He also had a sister named Jean, who was two years younger. Their mother died when she was only 24 years old, Grant and Jean were still infants and they were raised by their father, aunt and grandfather, according to an Omaha World Herald article.
Grant would go on to attend school in Cozad. He is pictured among his classmates in a group photo when they were sophomores in a 1937 Cozad High School yearbook.
He was involved in sports and joined the Cozad High School football team. He was featured in a Sept. 13, 1938 news article when he was a junior and halfback on the team, according to the World Herald article.
In 1939, Grant would graduate from Cozad High School and took a job with a local garage soon after, according to the article. Who knows what inspired Grant, a fresh faced young man from Nebraska, to join the Navy, but he did just that, a little more than a year after graduating.
Grant traveled to Illinois and received his training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, according to information from the Dawson County Historical Museum. At the time when Grant was enrolled, the program was training around 6,000 sailors.
Six months after the war started, the number jumped to 68,000, two years later, 100,000.
After his training was complete, Grant was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, BB-37. The Oklahoma was the second of two Nevada class battleships, the ship was ordered by the Navy in 1911 and construction began in October, 1912.
The Oklahoma was launched in 1914 and mainly conducted fleet exercises in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The ship was modernized in 1929, which brought her crew complement up to 1,398. In 1936 the ship took part in rescuing American refugees, fleeing the Spanish Civil War.
By the late 1930s, the Oklahoma had been assigned to the Pacific Fleet and made her home berth in Pearl Harbor.
By this point Grant had achieved the rank of Fireman, First Class, he was assigned to the ship’s boiler room, deep within the battleship. His job would have been to keep the fires burning in the ship’s boiler which was used to make steam to propel the ship.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Oklahoma was moored in berth Fox 3 in Battleship Row. She was moored alongside her sister battleships, with Maryland beside her, behind was West Virginia and Tennessee, then the Arizona and last the Nevada.
It would be the last resting place for far too many young American sailors.
Japan had been planning to strike the United States at Pearl Harbor since early 1941. The United States had put an oil embargo on Japan as condemnation for the island nation’s war of aggression in China.
With little resources of their own, Japan was left with two options. Either withdrawal from China and lose face on the international stage or seize the resource rich European colonies of Southeast Asia, which doing so would certainly cause war with the United States.
Japan decided on a preemptive strike, to cripple the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet, in its docks at Pearl Harbor.
Not only would the Japanese attack in Hawaii, they would launch a Pacific wide blitz to take the U.S. held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island, as well as Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong along with dozens of other strategic island chains. The scope of the attack was staggering, the largest battlefield in human history.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was the brainchild of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, then commander of the Combined Fleet.
The plan was audacious, an attack delivered by airstrike from naval aircraft ferried halfway across the Pacific in secret by aircraft carriers, such an attack on this scale had no peer in the history of naval warfare up to this point.
Yamamoto said the attack would give the Japanese six months to run rampant in the Pacific before the industry of the United States was stirred to life for the war effort.
The main targets of the raid were the three American aircraft carriers, all of which would be absent during the attack, much to Japan’s dismay. The carrier USS Enterprise would be a thorn in the Japanese side for the entire war.
A flaw in Japanese strategic thinking was also to be shown in the Pearl Harbor attack. The navy yard, oil tank farms and submarine bases were ignored. By their thinking, the war would be over before the influences of these facilities were felt.
Japan’s best naval aviators trained for 10 months, practicing dive bombing, high level bombing, torpedo runs, strafing, all designed to attack ships moored at port and aircraft on the ground. The torpedoes had been specially modified with wooden fins, to help them operate in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor.
On Nov. 26, 1941, the Kido Butai, “Striking Force,” made up of six aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku, left port in Japan, with 408 aircraft, and stayed well north of the commercial shipping lanes, sweeping down on Hawaii from the north.
In Pearl Harbor, Sunday morning was a slower day for most of the sailors who were recuperating from their shore leave Saturday evening, participating in worship services or attending to their duties onboard the ships. Several battleships had their hatches wide open for inspection that morning.
Grant Cook would have been near his station in the boiler room on the Oklahoma.
The attack was separated into waves, the first wave was the primary attack and carried most the weapons designed to attack capital ships. The second wave would attack the carriers, cruisers and battleships.
Aircraft consisted of the B5N Type 97, “Kates,” a three person craft which could carry out torpedo runs or high level bombing. D3A Type 99, “Vals,” two person dive bombers with a fixed landing gear and rear facing gunner and A6M Type 00 “Zeros,” the excellent fighter aircraft which Japan would use to dominate the skies in the early years of the Pacific Theater.
The first wave was made up of 50 high level bombers and 40 torpedo bombers equipped with the formidable Type 91 torpedo.
There was a total of 183 aircraft, including dive bombers and fighters. The wave circled the coast of Oahu before splitting into different components, approaching Pearl Harbor from different directions. Dive bombers coming from the north, torpedo planes from the west and east and high level bombers from the south.
Total and complete surprise had been achieved, the commander of the first wave passed the code phrase, “Tora, Tora, Tora!” The Americans in port had no clue what was about to hit them.
At 7:53 a.m. the dive bombers hit the south of Ford Island, which Battleship Row was moored alongside, the explosions signaling a peace which had just ended.
Torpedo planes from the carrier Soryu struck at ships on the opposite side of the island from Battleship Row and the Oklahoma. They struck several torpedo hits against the ships there, the ship Utah, capsized.
At 7:57 a.m., 24 torpedo bombers swept down on Battleship Row. Due to the geography of Pearl Harbor near the battleships, the planes only had one good angle of attack, an approach down the southeast lock.
USS Oklahoma lay directly at the end of the lock, along with USS West Virginia, a disproportionate amount of attacks would be targeted at these two ships, Oklahoma in particular.
Flying single file, 12 planes from the Akagi launched their torpedoes against Oklahoma, West Virginia and one against the battleship California, moored farther to the south. This was followed by four planes from the Hiryu, which had aborted earlier attacks in search of more lucrative targets.
The Americans had not been idle during the attacks, the bomb blasts on Ford Island gave many time to get to their stations on deck and man the anti-aircraft guns.
The next wave was three miles behind the first, made up of 12 torpedo planes from the Kaga. The majority made their runs against Oklahoma and West Virginia. The Americans would not let the strikes go unanswered; five of the last seven planes were shot down by fire from the ships and shore.
In total, the torpedo attacks took 11 minutes, the Oklahoma had 12 torpedoes launched against her, five struck home, and causing massive explosions below deck.
It is not known when Grant was killed during the attack. Being below decks, he was closer to the explosions than many of his shipmates. The third torpedo strike hit near the forward boiler rooms.
Grant Cook, Jr. was dead at 20 years old.
The Oklahoma began to list and capsized within 15 minutes. At 8:10 a.m. she was still upright when two bombs penetrated the USS Arizona and turned the ship into a fireball taking the lives of over a thousand American sailors.
After this strike Oklahoma rolled upside down.
Men attempted to get away from the ship as it rolled, fearing they would be sucked under with the ship. The bottom of the ship was exposed to the sky, looking like a grotesque turtle.
Grant Cook was among the 429 men who were killed on the Oklahoma. His body would remain unidentified for seven decades. He was laid to rest with his fellow sailors in a communal grave in Hawaii who had also been unidentified.
In 2015 the decision was made to disinter the remains of the sailors of the Oklahoma to make another attempt to identify them with modern DNA technology. Grant’s sister, Jean, now in her 90s, had given a DNA sample years earlier, according to the World Herald article.
Four years into the process, in 2018, Grant was identified and he found his final resting place in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
Cozad did not forget its native son who perished so young before he even knew he was at war. VFW Post 890 in the community bears his name.
A poster widely circulated during the war read, “We here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain, remember Dec. 7!”