Arles Cole

World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor



Arles Cole holds his autobiography, "Showing Our Colors at Pearl Harbor," in his apartment at University Village.

As a 17-year-old sailor stationed on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Arles Cole expected a normal, quiet Sunday morning on Dec. 7, 1941.

He had spent the previous evening purchasing Christmas gifts in Honolulu to send to relatives back home in Porum, Okla., a small town south of Muskogee.

Little did he realize that his world, and nearly everyone else’s in America, would soon be turned upside down.
Cole was at his assigned station on the bridge of the West Virginia at 7:55 a.m. (Hawaii time) on that serene Sunday morning. 

The first wave of Japanese bombers buzzed quickly over the horizon, releasing their destruction on the defenseless battleships lined up on “Battleship Row.”

“I remember somebody yelled, ‘We’re being bombed by the Japanese,’” Cole says. “We recognized them immediately as Japanese planes because we could see the red ball on their wings as they flew over.”

A total of 186 Japanese planes were involved in the first wave of the attack, Cole later learned.

With the attack ongoing and the orders to “assume battle stations” issued, Cole attempted to rush to his pre-assigned battle station, which was located four decks below the main deck.

He never made it.

Three decks down on his route, he found himself suddenly trapped by an incoming mixture of water and oil resulting from several torpedoes that had hit the West Virginia. Unable to open the hatch to escape, as the ship had been locked down, thoughts of death raced through Cole’s mind.

Standing alone in the darkness, he was swept off his feet. Then, he heard muffled voices and tried to make his way to them.

As fate would have it, Cole escaped death only by crawling through a hole in the deck created by a Japanese bomb that miraculously had turned out to be a dud.

After advancing to the second deck, Cole immediately turned his efforts to assisting his fellow sailors wounded from the bombing. He rescued and carried a fellow sailor, who turned out to be the ship’s top prizefighter, Doris “Dorie” Miller, weighing 235 pounds, up a flight of stairs to the main deck and eventual safety. Miller was later portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor.”

“To this day, I do not know how I had the strength to carry him up,” Cole says.

Cole not only survived the Japanese attack, but he also played an interesting role in the history of the West Virginia.
Once much of the smoke had cleared and after the Japanese bombers had finally departed, Cole realized that the United States flag had not been hoisted that day because of the bombing.

Cole explains that as a young and patriotic Oklahoman, he could not tolerate his ship lacking a flag flying from its mast. He scurried back below deck to the ship’s bunting locker, where he grabbed the largest flag he could find.

Returning topside, as he approached the ship’s stern, he saw that the halyard on the flagstaff had burned, but some line was remaining at the top of the pole. Cole shinnied up the flagstaff, which angled out over the oily water, and tied the flag to the staff.

Cole admits that the sight of the  flag waving in the breeze above the West Virginia seemed to inspire other sailors as they began efforts to recover from the deadly attack.

Sharing his thoughts

“People have been telling me for years that I should write a book about my experiences,” Cole says.

Cole finally took the plunge last spring. He says that actually working on the book turned into a form of therapy.

“It was a little rough at first, but I got settled in my mind that I could do it,” he says.

When he decided to go forward with the book, he approached the task with a passion. 

Not much slows down the active veteran. Because of declining eyesight, though, Cole dictated his notes into a tape recorder. Then his granddaughter, Rachel Tafoya, transcribed them into a manuscript and did some editing. 

“The toughest thing was just trying to remember everything I wanted to include in the book and then trying to get it in some order,” Cole says.

The resulting product, “Showing Our Colors at Pearl Harbor: A Firsthand Account Through the Eyes of a 17-Year-Old Survivor,” was published this year.

While Cole’s harrowing experience at Pearl Harbor and his account of how he survived the Japanese attack is a focal point, the book is actually an autobiography, chronicling Cole’s life from the time he was born in 1923 in the hills of eastern Oklahoma to today.

“The Lord helped me put the book together,” he says. “I got it done like the Lord directed me. It’s a book about Christian living with the basic foundation being my training in the church.”

Today, at age 87, Cole remains active in veterans’ programs and events, spreading the word about patriotism. He also makes a point to aid his fellow veterans in navigating the intricacies of veterans’ governmental programs, providing assistance and guidance and serving as their advocate whenever possible.

He traveled to Washington, D.C., on the Oklahoma Honor Flights in October. He and his daughter, Sandra, who is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, plan to travel to Pearl Harbor in December, where he will participate in the 69th anniversary observance of the bombing. Cole is a frequent representative for the West Virginia at such functions.

He has been a popular figure in Tulsa as well through appearances at recent local sporting events.

He threw out the ceremonial first pitches for The Summit League Baseball Championship at Oral Roberts University last May and for the Tulsa Drillers on the Fourth of July.

At a Tulsa Talons arena football game, he participated in the pre-game coin toss and presented the game ball to officials prior to a Tulsa Shock WNBA game. 

Four years ago, he first spoke at the Jenks Middle School Veterans Day assembly at the invitation of the school. He also speaks often at other area schools. But he has “adopted” Jenks Middle School as “his school,” he says.

Since speaking at Jenks, Cole has had to decide between being honored in the annual Veterans Day parade downtown or participating in the Jenks assembly and talking to the middle-schoolers each year.

For the past four years, Cole has chosen the latter — as an opportunity to pass on his sense of patriotism and love of country.

Often, after participating in the assembly, Cole ventures into classrooms and lets 12- and 13-year-olds fire questions at him in a no-holds-barred Q&A session.

Teachers say that even the students who may be disruptive at times suddenly grow reverential, with Cole drawing their respect merely by his presence.

“Were you scared?” a quiet 13-year-old boy asked him during one of the assemblies.

Cole paused and then chuckled with a gleam in his eye.

“I guess I’ve never been asked that question,” Cole told him.

“Yes, of course, I was scared,” he continued. “We were all scared. But we all had jobs to do and we concentrated on doing those jobs to defend our ships and to fight for our country the best we knew how.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Real history from a walking history book.

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View map »

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View map »

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The Museum’s Dickinson Research Center is home to more than 700,000 photographs, 44,000 books, and perhaps unexpectedly, at least 1,000 horses. Meet some of the herd in Horseplay, the new...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
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Pain Management Class Non-medical Treatments for Pain Non-medical treatments may be used to treat chronic pain, along with pain medicines. They might also be used alone for mild pain or...

Cost: Free and Open to the Public

Where:
Glenpool Library
730 E. 141st Street
Glenpool, OK  74033
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Sponsor: Success Skills
Telephone: 405-401-3519
Contact Name: Ron Watkins

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Winter's Grace Publishing, of northeast Oklahoma, is holding its inaugural Dead of Winter Flash Fiction Contest. It opened January 1 and it closes February 28. It's open to all creative writers...

Cost: $15 per story

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Winter's Grace Publishing
Telephone: 918-852-6311
Contact Name: C.D. Smart
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Youth members of the six area Boys & Girls Clubs compete for college scholarships in the Annual Youth of the Year competition. The winners are announced at this banquet. Volunteers making a...

Cost: $75

Where:
ORU Global Learning Center
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
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Sponsor: The Salvation Army
Telephone: 918-587-7801
Contact Name: Samantha Knappen
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Cocktails, dinner and program;  silent and live auctions followed by a Casino and dancing.

Cost: $200 per person, sponsorships available

Where:
The Mayo Hotel
115 W. 5th Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Tulsa CASA, Inc.
Telephone: 918-584-2272
Contact Name: Paula McKay
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America’s LARGEST interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa Broken Arrow! At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: 59.95

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa- Broken Arrow
420 W Albany St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
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Telephone: 866-496-0535
Contact Name: The Dinner Detective
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COOKING UP COMPASSION FACT SHEET ABOUT THE EVENT:  Long time donors Margo and Kent Dunbar are Honorary Chairs for the event. Now in its fourteenth year, Cooking Up Compassion raises funds for the...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Ballroom at the Cox Business Center
3rd & Houston
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Catholic Charities
Telephone: 918-508-7115
Contact Name: Jennifer Allen
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Support youth leaders emerging from Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Tulsa. Each candidate is competing for higher education scholarships. Our goal is for youth leader to be a winner and advance with...

Cost: $50 Individual Tickets and Sponsor Levels

Where:
Global Learning Center at ORU
7777 S Lewis Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74171
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Sponsor: The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Tulsa
Telephone: 918-587-7801
Contact Name: Samantha Knappen
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Dancing, cocktails, Cajun and jazz...all of the goodies that Mardi Gras has!  Come join New Hope Oklahoma in a night of Mardi Gras fun! New Hope Oklahoma strives to end generational incarceration,...

Cost: TBD

Where:
The Bond Event Center
608 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Cocktails, dinner and program with live and silent auctions followed by a Casino and dancing.

Cost: $200 per person, sponsorships available

Where:
The Mayo Hotel
115 W. 5th Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Tulsa CASA, Inc.
Telephone: 918-584-2272
Contact Name: Paula McKay
Website »

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6-10:30 p.m. Southern Hills Country Club, 2636 E. 61st Street. The 2019 Lunar New Year Gala at Southern Hills Country Club will be an elegant evening of candlelight, fine dining, children’s party...

Cost: $150, individual tickets; $1,000-$25,000, sponsorships.

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st Street
Tulsa, OK  74136
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Sponsor: Dillon International
Telephone: 918-748-5613
Contact Name: Marcia Graham
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Dancing, cocktails, Cajun and jazz...all of the goodies that Mardi Gras has!  Come join New Hope Oklahoma in a night of Mardi Gras fun!  New Hope Oklahoma strives to end generational...

Cost: TBD

Where:
The Bond
608 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Winterset is an annual formal event of the Osteopathic Founders Foundation which brings together the osteopathic profession and their community partners to benefit projects which improve the health...

Cost: $300

Where:
Hyatt Regency Tulsa
100 E 2nd St
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Osteopathic Founders Foundation
Telephone: 918-551-7300
Contact Name: Michele Caine
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Sunday in the Park with George follows painter Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Consumed...

Cost: $25.00 for adults, $22.50 for students & seniors with ID

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: American Theatre Company
Telephone: (918) 747-9494
Contact Name: Meghan Hurley
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TULtalk


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“Sunday in the Park” is no walk in the park

American Theatre Company prepares for the Oklahoma premiere of the very technically challenging “Sunday in the Park with George,” Feb. 15-24

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2.3: Get that “Woo!” — Tom Basler

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From the editor: What I did for love

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