Donald Stratton, USS Arizona Survivor Dies – Two Left
Donald Stratton, one of only three survivors of the USS Arizona, passed away Feb 15, at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was 97. There are only two men left who survived the inferno: Lou Conter and Ken Potts (Stars and Stripes)
Stratton barely survived the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona was ripe for attack, with its broadside totally exposed as a bomb hit the ship’s forward magazines and the ship exploded in a raging inferno. Stratton wrote about his experience in “All the Gallant Men.”
“Men stumbled around on the deck like human torches, each collapsing into a flaming pile of flesh. Others jumped into the water. When they did, you could hear them sizzle… My T-shirt had caught fire, burning my arms and my back. My legs were burned from my ankles to my thighs. My face was seared. The hair on my head had been singed off, and part of my ear was gone.” Donald Stratton
A man on a nearby ship, the Vestal, threw a line to the survivors. For Donald Stratton, a man who was severely burned, climbing the line hand over hand was extremely difficult. But he managed. Two weeks after the attack he was transferred to a burn unit at a hospital on Mare Island near San Francisco. He was medically discharged in 1942. But he and the others never forgot the valorous action of the man who threw the line.
But did he just heal up and forget about the US Navy? No.
The Navy Times wrote,
“During his long recovery, Stratton’s military surgeons urged him to let them amputate his burned limbs, but Stratton refused and forced himself through the pain to relearn how to walk.”
Determination, grit, he had it all as a member of the “Greatest Generation.” Donald Stratton was allowed to re-enlist in 1944 and had to once again go through basic training. From there he served in New Guinea, Okinawa, and the Philippines. He thought of going to sea as an “adventure.”
Here is an interview with Stratton:
USS Arizona survivors are allowed to have their cremains sent to the bottom the Pearl Harbor Memorial to be with their shipmates. But Donald Stratton told his friends that since he’d come so close to being burned alive before, he’d rather not do that and preferred to be buried in Nebraska.
His family posted on Facebook that Donald Stratton’s wish was that people would remember what happened on that fateful day:
“One of Donald’s final wishes was that people remember Pearl Harbor and the men aboard the USS Arizona. Share their story and never forget those who gave all for our great country.” Facebook post
For Joseph Leon George, the man who threw the lifeline to Stratton and his fellow survivors, Stratton and Lauren Bruner fought to obtain a Bronze Star for his courage. They petitioned Congress and President Trump. They were successful – the family of Joseph George received a Bronze Star with V device for his action.
Our Greatest Generation, from the Navajo Code Talkers to the men who died at Pearl Harbor and battles beyond, those who sacrificed everything to save our country are fast being lost to history. Remember them, honor their memories, read about them, and never, ever forget.
Featured photo: Facebook