The University of Arizona unveils its new memorial on Dec. 4, 2016, for the USS Arizona to honor members who served during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com
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These men experienced the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor and survived. “Witnesses to infamy: The survivors of the attack on the battleship USS Arizona,” an azcentral special documentary by Pat Shannahan.
Copyright The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com
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The mountains of information about the Pearl Harbor attack can be overwhelming, but there are certainly things any American should know.
Department of Defense
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Anniversary event at the USS Arizona Memorial, marking the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Patrick Breen/The Republic
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Take a virtual tour of the Battleship USS Arizona. When it was built, it was the largest battleship in the world.
Pat Shannahan/The Republic
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Brooklyn historian Ron Schweiger talks about USS Arizona, which was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard beginning in 1914.
Pat Shannahan/The Republic
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See the stark differences between Pearl Harbor in 1941 and today.
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Pearl Harbor survivors Jack Holder, Maurice Storck and Marvin Rewerts talk about the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
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The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona exhibit, commemorating the famous ship sunk at Pearl Harbor, will go on display at the University of Arizona Library Special Collections Aug. 29-Dec. 23, 2016. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
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Survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona describe the bomb that sank their ship.
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Video showing the destruction of the battleship USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
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USS Arizona Mall Memorial unveiled in Tucson
Witnesses to infamy: The survivors of the attack on the battleship USS Arizona
Everything You Should Know About the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 120 Seconds
Anniversary memorial on USS Arizona
USS Arizona: Take a virtual tour of the famed ship from Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona: A battleship ready for war
Pearl Harbor then and now
Pearl Harbor survivors talk about the attack
The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona
USS Arizona: The bomb that sank the ship at Pearl Harbor
Destruction of the battleship USS Arizona
More than 75 years ago, a young sailor from a Navy maintenance ship helped six desperate crewmen escape the sinking USS Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The young sailor never got public recognition for his efforts. But the last two of the men he saved are on a mission to make that right.
Donald Stratton, 94, and Lauren Bruner, 96, will go to Washington, D.C., next month and hope to meet with lawmakers, Navy officials and representatives from the White House. Their goal is to secure a posthumous award for the sailor, Joe George.
“He should have the Navy Cross,” Stratton told The Arizona Republic last year. “He saved six people’s lives. Joe saved six lives and he didn’t get crap.”
They have found sponsors for part of the trip, including Delta Airlines, but are trying to raise money for accommodations and other necessities.
Nikki Stratton, Donald Stratton’s granddaughter, has worked to set up an online donation site for anyone who wants to help the two survivors. The donation page is part of a larger site about the Arizona survivors.
Stratton and Bruner are two of only five remaining survivors from the USS Arizona. In recent years they have begun talking about how they escaped a flaming tower on the ship. They have both taken up the cause of telling the story of the man who saved their lives, a man they — and the world — never really knew.
Joe George was a boatswain’s mate second class on the USS Vestal, a maintenance ship that was docked next to the Arizona the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
That morning, just as the harbor was awakening, Japanese attack planes descended on Battleship Row.
The planes hit the Arizona hard. Nearly 14 minutes into the assault, a bomb buried itself in an ammunition store in the guts of the ship. The ammunition exploded, and the shock wave lifted the Arizona out of the water as a fireball engulfed the decks.
Stratton and Bruner were among six sailors trapped in a control tower on the Arizona’s main mast as the fire raged below. They were burned badly and looked for escape as the ship listed.
On the Vestal, George was fighting fires when he spotted the six Arizona sailors. An officer ordered him to cut the line between the Vestal and the Arizona, but George refused and instead tossed a weighted heaving line onto the Arizona.
The six men crawled over on the line, hand over hand, until they reached the Vestal. Bruner and Stratton were badly hurt and hospitalized for weeks before returning to service later in the war.
George was commended for his actions on his Continuous Service Certificate, a record of his time in the Navy, but he never received a medal or any other formal honor for his role in the rescue of the six sailors.
His story emerged quietly, and was recorded once in 1978, when George talked about his life in the Navy for an oral history program at a Texas university. He described how an officer had repeatedly commanded him to cut the ship loose, but he refused.
He had looked Stratton in the eyes as Stratton, his hands burned, descended painfully along the rope. “C’mon kid,” George yelled. “You can do it!”
“As far as he was concerned, he was saving lives,” Stratton says now. “He refused to cut the line no matter what.”
Stratton and his son, Randy, have been working to secure recognition for George.
“The Navy wants an eyewitness account from the Vestal and can’t get past that he disobeyed an order,” Randy Stratton said in an interview last year. “The Navy should recognize him for what he did.”
Joe George’s daughter, Joe Ann Taylor of Cabot, Ark., has taken up the cause as well and has talked with elected officials and representatives of the Navy. So far, no one has found a way to get George any sort of official honor.
Bruner, Stratton and other family members will try to make the case in person in July. Nikki Stratton said they have all been working to arrange meetings and appearances to tell the story in Washington.
“We have some great meetings set up already, including one at the World War II Memorial,” she said. She’s been told that Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas will speak about Joe on the Senate floor, putting the story in the Senate record.
They’re hoping to arrange a visit to the White House before the trip is over.
Joe Ann started writing letters to lawmakers more than a year or so ago, hoping to sway enough people to cut through some of the bureaucratic issues. She hopes the word of two veterans who escaped the burning USS Arizona is enough in the end.
“I’m just utterly amazed at what my father did,” she told The Republic last year. “I think there was an instinct for survival. He went on doing what he was supposed to be doing before he ever stopped.”
To help send the survivors to Washington
You can donate money toward the trip expenses at a special donation page on the USS Arizona Final Salute site.
The site includes background about all of the remaining Arizona survivors.
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