DONALD STRATTON – Seaman First Class USS Arizona (BB-39)
Pearl Harbor is one of those tragic milestones of WWII on which so many subsequent events hinge. It was natural that I would try to find a veteran or witness. I never dreamed I would encounter not one but three persons from the epicenter: undoubtedly, the USS Arizona can be considered “The day of Infamy’s” Ground Zero.
And I owe it all to a man named Joe George:
During my research, I came across the remarkable story of Lou Conter, one of 5 living survivors from the doomed ship. I then discovered that two other survivors, Lauren Bruner and Donald Stratton, would coincidentally be in Washington DC attempting to get long overdue recognition for the late Chief Boatswain’s Mate Joseph “Joe” George during my planned visit in July 2017.
George was a boatswain’s mate second class aboard the USS Vestal (AR-4), responsible for throwing the lifeline on which Bruner and Stratton crawled to safety off the infernal Arizona for which CBM George was in 2017 posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor.
I reached out to Mr. Stratton’s granddaughter, Nikki Stratton, who, despite being extremely busy working out the logistics of their historic trip to DC to meet with several US Senators, the Secretary of Defense, the Commander of Naval Operations, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US President Trump, very kindly arranged to allow me to present the logbook to these amazing gentlemen for their signature. That was really an incredible experience for which I will be eternally grateful.
As it turned out, a third survivor from the Arizona was also with the group, Mr. Ken Potts and he graciously agreed to sign. I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. George’s daughter, JoeAnn Taylor, Mr. Stratton’s wife, Velma and his son Randy Stratton.
Mr. Potts was on a harbor boat on 7 December 1941 returning to the ship when the chaos began. He boarded the burning Arizona, ducking and dodging debris and shrapnel and runaway fires for the next three hours before he heard the abandon ship signal. He was later put on a diving crew tasked with retrieving the bodies of men he had served alongside.
Mr. Stratton was absolutely gracious despite a long day. He was clearly pleased with the day’s events as he chatted and joked with me. Not only did he sign the logbook but also gave me an autographed copy of his own book “All the Gallent Men”; I was deeply honored.
Mr. Bruner was understandably exhausted and retired quickly to his room, however to be fortunate enough to meet these survivors who witnessed/suffered so much on that colossally historic day is a moment I will forever cherish.
Most fittingly, the mission of these incredible men and their families after many years of petitioning, was met with success. On the 76th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Joseph L. George received the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor for his actions on December 7, 1941.
Only now as I type this does it dawn on me that the humble Log Book was there on the margins of this historic event-in-the-making…thank you Nikki Stratton!!