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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October 2019

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Where:
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Cost: 109

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Telephone: 918-813-6514
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Cost: FREE

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Cost: 0.00

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Cost: $8 for ages 13+, $4 for ages 3 to 12. Children 2 yrs and under are free

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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Tulsa Botanic Garden
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Cost: $ 6 - $ 20

Where:
Endangered Ark Foundation
2657 E 2070 Rd
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View map »


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Telephone: 580-317-8470
Contact Name: Emily
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More information

The United Nations Association of Eastern Oklahoma presents its Annual U.N. Day Dinner on Thursday October 24th at 6 pm at the TaulCoy Room in Tulsa.  Tickets begin at $30 for students, $60...

Cost: $30-$500

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Sponsor: United Nations Association of Eastern Oklahoma
Telephone: 918-430-6119
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Cost: $300 (individual tickets)

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Sponsor: Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice
Telephone: 918-583-1361
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Cost: $15

Where:
Studio K (Tulsa) and Zarrow Studio (Broken Arrow(
1212 E 45th Place
Tulsa, OK  74105
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Ballet
Telephone: 918-749-6006
Contact Name: Dan
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Cost: $1,250

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st St.
Tulsa, OK  74136
View map »


Sponsor: Abersons
Telephone: 918-834-7200
Contact Name: Scarlet Henley
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Cost: 109

Where:
THE DANCE PLACE
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TULSA, OK  74107
View map »


Telephone: 918-813-6514
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The annual US National Arabian & Half Arabian Horse Show returns to Tulsa. You will be able to see over 1700 Arabian and Half Arabian horses competing in many divisions, including Breeding/In Hand...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Tulsa State Fairgrounds
4145 E 21st St,
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-6964500
Contact Name: Kelsey Berglund
Website »

More information

Hello, Friends!   Fall is in the air! We are excited to present the 5th Annual Hugo Pumpkin Festival, a fun-filled event featuring a variety of entertaining activities for the whole family....

Cost: $ 6 - $ 20

Where:
Endangered Ark Foundation
2657 E 2070 Rd
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View map »


Sponsor: Endangered Ark Foundation
Telephone: 580-317-8470
Contact Name: Emily
Website »

More information

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Cost: $60

Where:
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Sponsor: Family & Children's Services
Telephone: 918-560-1115
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Cost: $75.00

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Crime Prevention Network
Telephone: 918-585-5209
Contact Name: Karen Gilbert
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Abersons presents Pink Ribbon -- an exclusive, high-fashion fundraiser featuring a runway show by one of the world's hottest designers. Cocktails 6 p.m. | Dinner & Live Auction 7...

Cost: $1,250

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st St.
Tulsa, OK  74136
View map »


Sponsor: Abersons
Telephone: 918-834-7200
Contact Name: Scarlet Henley
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15

Where:
Studio K (Tulsa) and Zarrow Studio (Broken Arrow(
1212 E 45th Place
Tulsa, OK  74105
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Ballet
Telephone: 918-749-6006
Contact Name: Dan
Website »

More information

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Cost: 25.00

Where:
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Tulsa, OK  74137
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Dance Company
Telephone: 918-779-7360
Contact Name: Tulsa Dance Company
Website »

More information

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Cost: Varies

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300 Aquarium Drive
Jenks, OK  74107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Aquarium
Telephone: 918-528-1507
Contact Name: Liz Medrano
Website »

More information

Originally from West Africa, Kizomba is a partner dance that is a sexy addition to any Latin dance party. It is the fastest Latin growing dance in the U.S. Come and learn the basics plus a few more...

Cost: 109

Where:
THE DANCE PLACE
3310 WEST 42ND PLACE
TULSA, OK  74107
View map »


Telephone: 918-813-6514
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


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Seymour, a nerdy worker at a run-down florist is romantically pining for a seemingly unattainable beauty named Audrey, when he discovers an unusual plant that only thrives when it is fed human...

Cost: $15-$25

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 East Second Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Tulsa Project Theatre
Telephone: 918-596-7122
Contact Name: Amber Whitlatch
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The annual US National Arabian & Half Arabian Horse Show returns to Tulsa. You will be able to see over 1700 Arabian and Half Arabian horses competing in many divisions, including Breeding/In Hand...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Tulsa State Fairgrounds
4145 E 21st St,
Tulsa, OK  74114
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Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-6964500
Contact Name: Kelsey Berglund
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The Tulsa Walk to Defeat ALS is the signature fundraising event for The ALS Association Oklahoma. The Walk to Defeat ALS is the #1 way to unite and fundraise for those living with ALS. Each...

Cost: Free

Where:
Guthrie Green
111 East M.B. Brady Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Telephone: 202-464-8617

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Together OSU Medicine and OSU Medical Center have built a fully comprehensive health care team to serve families in Tulsa and the surrounding areas. One of those levels of expertise is...

Cost: Free

Where:
OSU Medical Center North Lobby
744 W. Ninth St.
Tulsa, OK
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Sponsor: OSU Medicine

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 Harvest Hayday!  October 26, from 11am - 2pm.  Come celebrate the arrival of fall!  With hayrides, games, trunk or treating, emergency vehicles, a petting zoo, and more, ...

Cost: Free, except food items for purchase from Food Trucks

Where:
Asbury UMC
6767 S. Mingo Rd
Tulsa, OK  74133
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Sponsor: Asbury UMC
Telephone: 918-392-1165
Contact Name: Kim Broadhurst
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Hello, Friends!   Fall is in the air! We are excited to present the 5th Annual Hugo Pumpkin Festival, a fun-filled event featuring a variety of entertaining activities for the whole family....

Cost: $ 6 - $ 20

Where:
Endangered Ark Foundation
2657 E 2070 Rd
Hugo, OK  74743
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Sponsor: Endangered Ark Foundation
Telephone: 580-317-8470
Contact Name: Emily
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Outdoor All Day Family Friendly Halloween Event 

Cost: $0-$10.00

Where:
Downtown Wagoner
Main Street
Wagoner
Wagoner, OK  74467
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Sponsor: Wagoner Main Street
Telephone: 918-577-1772
Contact Name: Samantha Call
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Buy a Care Card and save up to 20% at more than 200 local stores and restaurants October 25 – November 3, 2018. With Care Card, you’re saving more than money – you’re saving lives....

Cost: $60

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: Family & Children's Services
Telephone: 918-560-1115
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Abersons presents Pink Ribbon -- an exclusive, high-fashion fundraiser featuring a runway show by one of the world's hottest designers. Cocktails 6 p.m. | Dinner & Live Auction 7...

Cost: $1,250

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st St.
Tulsa, OK  74136
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Sponsor: Abersons
Telephone: 918-834-7200
Contact Name: Scarlet Henley
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Go into the woods and experience the return of this fantastic family production with performances in both Tulsa and Broken Arrow. Tulsa Ballet's Hardesty Family Foundation Children's...

Cost: $15

Where:
Studio K (Tulsa) and Zarrow Studio (Broken Arrow(
1212 E 45th Place
Tulsa, OK  74105
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Sponsor: Tulsa Ballet
Telephone: 918-749-6006
Contact Name: Dan
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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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Mummies of all ages! Bring your goblins, witches, and super heroes to our fun and food filled Halloween Dance! Saturday, October 26th, 2019 6-9 pm $5 per person (check or cash)  

Cost: $5 per person

Where:
Bixby Community Center
211 N Cabaniss Ave
Bixby , OK  74008
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Sponsor: Bixby Community Center
Telephone: 918-366-4841
Contact Name: Victoria Smith

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For the first time, the Oklahoma Aquarium will host seven nights of indoor trick-or-treating for kids of all ages from Friday, October 25 to Thursday, October 31! Guests can follow the...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Oklahoma Aquarium
300 Aquarium Drive
Jenks, OK  74107
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Aquarium
Telephone: 918-528-1507
Contact Name: Liz Medrano
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Originally from West Africa, Kizomba is a partner dance that is a sexy addition to any Latin dance party. It is the fastest Latin growing dance in the U.S. Come and learn the basics plus a few more...

Cost: 109

Where:
THE DANCE PLACE
3310 WEST 42ND PLACE
TULSA, OK  74107
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Telephone: 918-813-6514
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Tulsa Metro Sound Chorus presents: "As Seen on TMS". A comedic review which will keep you in stitches, including music of Iconic Women of Song . Come enjoy the music of Karen Carpenter,...

Cost: 15.00

Where:
Memorial High School
5840 S Hudson Ave,
Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Tulsa Metro Sound
Telephone: 918-352-6091
Contact Name: Marlys Fallen
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Choral Music from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Down Under

Cost: $20

Where:
Cascia Hall
2520 S Yorktown Ave
Tulsa, OK  74114
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Sponsor: Tulsa Chorale
Telephone: 918-625-1527
Contact Name: Anastasia Howard
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Are you looking for a night of Halloween hilarity, ghoulish guffaws, and spooky silliness? Then come and see the spirited stylings of Laughing Matter… Oklahoma’s longest-running...

Cost: $8.00 ($4.00 for children under 12)

Where:
pH Community House
306 S Phoenix Ave
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Laughing Matter Improv
Contact Name: Jerry Henderson
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Luchadores go head to head in the ring to see who really is The Great Pumpkin!

Cost: Free

Where:
Elote Cafe & Catering
514 S Boston Ave
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Elote Cafe & Catering
Telephone: 918-582-1403
Contact Name: Elote Cafe & Catering
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Seymour, a nerdy worker at a run-down florist is romantically pining for a seemingly unattainable beauty named Audrey, when he discovers an unusual plant that only thrives when it is fed human...

Cost: $15-$25

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 East Second Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Tulsa Project Theatre
Telephone: 918-596-7122
Contact Name: Amber Whitlatch
Website »

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No tricks, just treats! Gathering Place is casting a spell for all not-so-scary ghosts and ghouls to make their way to the park for sweets and treats. Meet us on Spooky Street for a kid-friendly,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gathering Place
2650 S. John Williams Way E.
Tulsa, OK  74114
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