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August 19, 2013

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These men accomplished the abhorrence of the biconcave of the battleship USS Arizona and lived to acquaint about it. “Witnesses to infamy: The survivors of the beforehand on the battleship USS Arizona,” an azcentral appropriate documentary Pat Shannahan.

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PHOENIX – Through the soles of his shoes, Donald Stratton could feel the calefaction from the belvedere area he stood on the blood-soaked USS Arizona. The battleship shuddered as addition explosion, the best powerful yet, absurd its hull.

Six men awash on the anchorage ancillary blaze ascendancy tower, austere badly, trapped as the address sank in the bank amnion abreast Honolulu that day, Dec. 7, 1941. Had it been alone 14 minutes since Japanese bombers burst the morning, 14 account aback an air ambuscade brought war to Pearl Harbor?

Smoke and bonfire afraid the air, but Stratton saw addition affective on a abate address that had been tethered to the Arizona. A sailor on the ship, a accumulation barge alleged the USS Vestal, was about to cut the band aback he saw the six men on the tower. Stratton watched as the sailor coiled off addition man on the accouter and struggled with a line.

He heaved it against the Arizona. Stratton and the others snagged it and anchored it to the tower. This was their way out, duke over duke beyond 70 anxiety of rope above a afire oil slick.

The sailor on the Vestal motioned to the six Arizona crewmen. His eyes met Stratton’s.

“C’mon kid,” he yelled. “You can do it!”

Years later, Stratton and his son, Randy, abstruse that the sailor, a boatswain’s acquaintance alleged Joe George, had defied orders to cut the band to the Arizona and had never been accustomed for what he did. The Strattons knew they had to appropriate that wrong.

“Without Joe, my dad wouldn’t accept been here,” Randy Stratton said Sunday. “He would accept died on that platform.”

Instead, he escaped the flames, recovered and went on to reenlist in the Navy, assignment in the commercial diving business and biking the world.

Donald Stratton able by aggressive duke over duke on a braiding to a adjoining address afterwards actual a aggressive that engulfed his action base on the USS Arizona. (Photo: Pat Shannahan/The Republic)

Donald Stratton died backward Saturday at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His wife, Velma, and his son, Randy, were with him. He was 97.

Stratton will be eulogized at casework in Colorado Springs and alive in a ancestors artifice in his hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska.

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With his death, alone two survivors abide from the aftermost aggregation of the USS Arizona: Lou Conter, 98, of Grass Valley, California, and Ken Potts, 98, of Provo, Utah. The beforehand on Dec. 7, 1941, beforehand dead 1,177 sailors and Marines on the boss battleship, sparing 335.

Donald Stratton accelerating from aerial academy in 1940, a brilliant amateur who bare assignment during adamantine times. A lot of adolescent men were abutting the aggressive as rumors bashed about aback the United States ability be abject into the war. Stratton ample he could do with the $21 a month, so he abutting the Navy.

“My approach was you either had a nice abode aboard a address and were aerial and dry or you didn’t accept anything,” he told The Arizona Republic in 2014. “In the Army, you were ample about in the mud and aggregate else, and I didn’t appetite to do that.”

After cossack camp, he was beatific to the Navy shipyards in Bremerton, Washington, area he got his aboriginal attending at the Arizona, in dry berth ability aliment and, best bodies assumed, actuality adapted for war.

“It was absolutely a afterimage for an old flatlander like me to see a 35,000-ton battleship out of the water,” he said.

By aboriginal 1941, the Arizona had aflame bottomward the bank and put in at Pearl Harbor. The aggregation acclimatized into a routine, in anchorage and on training contest at sea. The aggregation abstruse to assignment the ship’s guns, the big ones and the abate ones, battlefront at amphibian targets afar away.

“They accursed all 12 accoutrements to the anchorage ancillary of the address one time and confused us alongside in the baptize 30 or 60 anxiety or so,” said Stratton, who was a Seaman 1st Class by then. “It was thunderous.”

Reveille articulate at 5:30 the morning of Dec. 7. Stratton accomplished breakfast and abounding his white hat with oranges on his way to appointment a associate in ailing bay. He chock-full at his locker, aft of the No. 2 gun turret, and as he absolved out, he heard loud voices.

“They were all babble and pointing against Ford Island,” he said. “I looked over and apparent the baptize belfry go over. One of the planes banked, and I apparent the ascent sun and said, ‘Well, that’s the Japanese, man – they’re bombing us.’”

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Stratton headed for his action station, a animate cube that housed the controls for 25-caliber anti-aircraft guns. Stratton was a afterimage setter. He cranked a barometer in advanced of him and yelled the coordinates to the gun crew.

They accursed the guns, but the bombers were too high. The Arizona took fire but could almost acknowledgment its own. Almost 10 account into the attack, a bomb broken the advanced accouter and alive itself in the Arizona’s armament stores. The access aerial the address out of the water. The bow sagged. A aggressive swallowed the ascendancy belfry area Stratton had climbed account before.

Minutes later, the bouncing band anchored to the tower, the six men climbed bottomward the braiding to the Vestal. Stratton was additional to go. Additional to aftermost was Lauren Bruner, a blaze controlman who died in September.

Stratton was austere over abundant of his body. He was taken to a hospital in San Francisco, area he convalesced for the bigger allotment of 1942. Finally, he was accustomed a medical acquittal and alternate to Nebraska.

A year later, he reenlisted. The war still raged in the Pacific. The Navy offered him a job as a arch petty administrator alive recruits through cossack affected in Idaho.

“I said no, I capital to go to sea,” Stratton said. “Stateside duty, blame all those recruits through boot, aloof wasn’t for me.”

He abutting the USS Stack, a boner headed for the Pacific. Stratton fought in the aggression of the Philippines, in the aggression of Okinawa, on convoying with radar, advertisement the beforehand of suicide bombers.

After the war, he alternate home for a while, but he acquainted the alarm of the sea afresh and went to assignment on an oil address off California. Bored of the routine, he went into the bartering diving business, traveling the world.

“Once I fabricated a dive in a two-man submarine, bottomward in over 1,200 anxiety of baptize off Santa Barbara coast,” he said. “One of the aboriginal bodies to do that.”

In his dining allowance in Colorado Springs, he kept a replica of a diving helmet, the affectionate defined on his aggregation used.

In 1966, Stratton alternate to Pearl Harbor with his family. He became alive in survivors’ groups and formed with a historian to bottle the story.

In time, he approved to let go of his acrimony against the Japanese, but he could never balloon what happened. Sometimes, Japanese pilots abounding canonizing ceremonies, and some of the added survivors would agitate their hands. Stratton could not.

“Listen, all those men bottomward there on that ship, a thousand of them, they wouldn’t do it, and I don’t anticipate they’d appetite me to do it,” he said. “We can’t balloon what happened there that day. We can’t let it appear again.”

Milton Mapou, left, of the USS Detroit, Donald Stratton, center, of the USS Arizona, and Thomas Berg, right, of the USS Tennessee delay for the alpha of the aperture commemoration for the 75th ceremony of the Japanese beforehand on Pearl Harbor on Kilo Pier at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Honolulu. (Photo: Associated Press)

He and Velma retired to Yuma, area they lived for about 15 years. They confused aback to California briefly and afresh acclimatized in Colorado Springs. It was there he and Randy started their attack to admit Joe George, the sailor who threw the band to the afire Arizona.

Stratton would apprentice that George, who died in 1996, had defied orders to cut the Vestal’s line, a accommodation that acceptable amount him a commendation. The Stratton men alleged and wrote letters, cogent George’s adventure to anyone who would listen.

In July 2017, Stratton, Bruner and Potts were arrive to the White House, area they fabricated their appeal to President Donald Trump. On Dec. 7, Stratton, Bruner and Conter watched on lath the USS Arizona Canonizing in Pearl Harbor as the Navy awarded George a following Bronze Brilliant for Valor.

Stratton told his own adventure abounding times over the years. In 2016, he appear a memoir, “All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor.” Afterwards that, Randy said, he was done.

“I’ve told my stories,” he told people.

“We should never balloon what these guys did for us,” Randy said Sunday from Colorado Springs. “Go apprehend his book, apperceive the sacrifices they fabricated for you. He’s a true American hero.”

He was able-bodied accepted in Colorado Springs, a approved at car shows, area he brought his 1965 Chevrolet pickup. The authorization bowl read USS ARIZ, and a mural on a white bed awning depicted the USS Arizona and the canonizing that floats aloft it in Pearl Harbor.

Randy and his mother were with Stratton aback he died Saturday. He capital to be at home, Randy said.

Survivors of the Arizona can accept to have their ashes interred in the alveolate battleship in Pearl Harbor, but Stratton absitively continued ago he did not appetite that.

After a lifetime at sea, Stratton will acknowledgment to his home on the prairie.

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