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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June 2019

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Cost: $13-$18

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Broken Arrow Community Playhouse
1800 S. Main St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
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Sponsor: Broken Arrow Community Playhouse
Telephone: 918-258-0077
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Sponsor: Tulsa Community College
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: Cindy Armstrong

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Cost: Free & open to the public

Where:
McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
TCC Metro Campus
Tulsa, OK  74119
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Sponsor: Tulsa Community College
Telephone: 918-595-7339
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Cost: Donations only

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4241 S. 37th W. Ave.
South Door Activity Center
Tulsa, OK  74107
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Sponsor: Magi 4 Christ Campers
Telephone: 918-906-0564
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Cost: Free

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Rudisill Regional Library
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Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: 405-326-1545
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Tulsa, OK


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Telephone: 918-508-2709
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Cost: free & open to the public

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McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
TCC Metro Campus
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Sponsor: Tulsa Community College
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: Cindy Armstrong

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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
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Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Telephone: 918-585-1234
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The Colony
2809 S Harvard Ave
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Tulsa, OK


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Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
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The classic musical about maintaining cultural identity against encroaching influences features several Broadway hits, including Sunrise, Sunset, If I Were a Rich Man, and Matchmaker, Matchmaker.

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Tulsa PAC - Chapman Music Hall
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The Colony
2809 S Harvard Ave
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10 N Greenwood Ave
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Blackbird on Pearl
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303 N MLK Jr Blvd
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Hard Rock Casino - The Joint
777 W Cherokee St
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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
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More information

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Cost: free & open to the public

Where:
McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
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Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Tulsa Community College
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: Cindy Armstrong

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Telephone: 918-585-1234
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Every Wednesday Live Event Trivia is at The Willows Family Ales - Show starts at 7 and is free to play! Movie scenes, Finish the Lyric, Classic Trivia, and more! The crew from T-Town Tacos will be...

Cost: Free

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The Willows Family Ales
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Sponsor: The Willows Family Ales
Telephone: (918) 895-6798
Contact Name: Julian Morgan
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Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

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Tulsa, OK


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Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
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Join Tulsa City-County Library’s Imagination Station for stories and songs in the park. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair. Afterward, cool off in the splash pad. Sponsored by the Tulsa Library...

Cost: Free

Where:
QuikTrip Plaza
41st and Riverside
Tulsa, OK  74132
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Sponsor: river parks
Telephone: 918-596-2008
Contact Name: Ryan Howell

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The Please Touch the Art exhibit breaks the rules of traditional art exhibits and makes art accessible, especially for visitors who are visually impaired or blind. Guests are encouraged to touch...

Cost: free & open to the public

Where:
McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
TCC Metro Campus
Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Tulsa Community College
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: Cindy Armstrong

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Then, Here/Now: Creating Community in the Center is a group exhibition that illuminates the histories and presence/presents of LGBTQIA+ art collectives and projects that help to ensure visibility...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Telephone: 918-585-1234
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Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 E. M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Sponsor: Living Arts of Tulsa
Telephone: 918-585-1234
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Paws & Pictures: Tulsa SPCA Drive-In Movie Night promises a night of family- and pet-friendly fun followed by two drive-in feature films when the sun goes down. All proceeds benefit the Tulsa SPCA...

Cost: $7 for adults; $3 for kids under 12

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Admiral Twin Drive-In
7355 E. Easton
Tulsa, OK  74115
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Third Thursdays in the Rainbow Room closes out its first season with Tulsa musical theatre veterans Pat Hobbs and John Orsulak in their two-man cabaret, “NEXTS!” Pat and John take the audience...

Cost: $15 Bistro / $10 GA

Where:
Lynn Riggs Theatre at OKEQ
621 East 4th St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Sponsor: OKEQ / Pat Hobbs
Telephone: 918-637-25866
Contact Name: Pat Hobbs
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The Collinsville Chamber of Commerce is bringing back their much-anticipated Outdoor Summer Movies for a sixth year this summer. The movies will take place Thursday evenings in June at the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Collinsville City Plaza
12th and Main Street
Collinsville, OK  74021
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Sponsor: Collinsville Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 918-371-4703
Contact Name: Megan Edwards
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Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
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Show More...
Show Less...

The Please Touch the Art exhibit breaks the rules of traditional art exhibits and makes art accessible, especially for visitors who are visually impaired or blind. Guests are encouraged to touch...

Cost: free & open to the public

Where:
McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
TCC Metro Campus
Tulsa, OK  74135
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Community College
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: Cindy Armstrong

More information

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
View map »

More information

Then, Here/Now: Creating Community in the Center is a group exhibition that illuminates the histories and presence/presents of LGBTQIA+ art collectives and projects that help to ensure visibility...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

Celebrate the summer solstice by ending the longest day of the year at the Garden! Stroll in the Garden as the sun sets. Coffee House on Your Street food truck will be selling food/snacks and OK...

Cost: $10 for Garden members; $15 for non-members.

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori
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Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

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Tulsa, OK


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Contact Name: Jenée Day
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Cost: FREE

Where:
Charles Page High School
500 N Adams Rd
Sand Springs, OK  74063
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Contact Name: CPHS Varsity Cheer
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Cost: Free admission

Where:
River Spirit Expo at Expo Square
4145 E. 21st St.
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Sponsor: Tulsa Flea Market
Telephone: 918-744-1386
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Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
Whittier Square
Admiral and Lewis
Tulsa, OK  74104
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Sponsor: 918Makers
Contact Name: Sarah Bowen
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Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Then, Here/Now: Creating Community in the Center is a group exhibition that illuminates the histories and presence/presents of LGBTQIA+ art collectives and projects that help to ensure visibility...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

Head down to Sweets & Cream on Saturday, June 22 for our PRIDE PARTY! Music, photo ops and specialty rainbow sugar cookies! This month's Tips for Charity partner is the Tulsa Dennis R....

Cost: FREE

Where:
Sweets & Cream
1114 S Yale Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Sponsor: Sweets & Cream
Telephone: 918-633-3182
Contact Name: Lori Moore
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Cost: $500

Where:
Mohawk Park
5701 East 36th St N
Tulsa, OK  74115
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Sponsor: The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges
Telephone: 918-794-4514
Contact Name: Victoria Ladd
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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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Come dressed in your favorite tropical evening attire and enjoy   • A delicious Caribbean Dinner • Tropical Rum Drinks and 2 Open Cash Bars • Music and Entertainment •...

Cost: 50.00 Individual

Where:
810 Ranch & Cattle Co.
800 N Country Club Road
Muskogee, OK  74403
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Sponsor: Kelly B Todd Cerebral Palsy and Neuro-Muscular Center
Telephone: 918-683-4621
Contact Name: Sharon the Riggs
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Where:
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Ninowski Rec Center
1367 E 71st St
Broken Arrow, OK
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Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
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