James Richard Ward was born on September 10, 1921, in Springfield, Ohio, and at the age of 19 enlisted in the Navy at Cincinnati on November 25, 1940.  Following recruit training he was stationed aboard the USS OKLAHOMA where his assignment was as a gun crewmember in a 14” gun turret.  On the morning of December 7, 1941, OKLAHOMA was moored at Battleship Row adjacent to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.  The ship was berthed outboard of the USS MARYLAND (BB-46) and was a sitting duck when the Japanese struck the fleet on that fateful morning.  As general quarters was sounded, Ford reported to his gun turret assignment.  As the Japanese began their attack OKLAHOMA became one of the first targets and within minutes three torpedoes exploded against her port side causing extensive damage below the waterline.  An important admiral’s inspection had been scheduled for OKLAHOMA the next day, so many of the ship’s watertight doors were open to allow easy access for the crew in preparing the ship for the scheduled inspection.  As OKLAHOMA commenced to slowly roll over due to the tremendous amount of flooding seawater, terror reigned below deck and in the darkness men sought to find a way out of the burning, metal coffin.  Barely ten minutes into the battle the 25-year old dreadnaught OKLAHOMA had been struck by nine torpedoes and finally rolled completely over until only her starboard propeller and some of her starboard underwater hull was visible. 

When the order was given to abandon ship Ward was in his darkened gun turret as the ship capsized.  Searching in the darkness he located a flashlight which he held for others in the darkened interior as his shipmates escaped toward safety.  Ward was not so fortunate and he became one of the more than 400 casualties who were trapped and died aboard OKLAHOMA that day when they were unable to escape a watery grave.  OKLAHOMA thus suffered the second most casualties by a ship that day, surpassed only by the USS ARIZONA (BB-39) which had 1,177 officers and enlisted men killed.

The body of Seaman Ward was not identified when bodies were later recovered from the wreck.  It is presumed that he has been laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu where approximately 390 unidentified men from OKLAHOMA have been buried in common graves which are marked “UNIDENTIFIED – USS OKLAHOMA - DECEMBER 7, 1941.”  Ward was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts that day.  In July 1943 the destroyer escort USS J. RICHARD WARD (DE-243) was named in his honor and served throughout World War II until decommissioned in June 1946.


The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Seaman First Class James Richard Ward, United States Navy, for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941.  When it was seen that the USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37) was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Seaman First Class Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.

Submitted by CDR Roy A. Mosteller, USNR (Ret)