USS Arizona survivors could return to Pearl Harbor for 75th anniversary
These men experienced the horror of the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona and lived to tell about it. “Witnesses to infamy: The survivors of the attack on the battleship USS Arizona,” an azcentral special documentary by Pat Shannahan.
PHOENIX — As a young girl, Nikki Stratton listened to the stories her grandfather told about his time in the Navy during World War II. She learned about the war in school and about what drew America into battle, and she pieced together her grandfather's account of how he escaped the USS Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Years later, she accompanied her grandfather, Donald Stratton, to Hawaii and stood with him on the deck of the USS Arizona memorial.
It was then she realized the significance of what he'd done.
"It was different to see my grandfather so solemn," she said. "He always has such a great sense of humor, always joking with us. When he was there, it was a different atmosphere. It weighed heavy on his heart. It showed me how big a loss this was."
Now she wants to help him and the other six remaining survivors of the Arizona return to Pearl Harbor next December to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack. She has worked with her father, Randy Stratton, and a Colorado crowdfunding company to launch a campaign to raise enough money to send the survivors to Hawaii to pay their respects to their fallen crewmates.
"There are still 1,177 men down there in the ship," Stratton said. "It's very powerful to stand there on the memorial. It was one of those things I had to see. When you go there you can feel the power that place has."
In all, 2,008 sailors and Marines died in the attack that day. The Arizona suffered the greatest loss of life. Of the men assigned to the Arizona, 335 survived the attack.
Donald Stratton was a 19-year-old seaman first class on the Arizona in December 1941, a year into his first assignment after enlisting in the Navy from his home in Nebraska. When the first Japanese planes screamed across the harbor the morning of Dec. 7, he scrambled for his battle station at the controls of anti-aircraft guns.
In the explosion from an armor-piercing shell, flames swallowed Stratton's post, trapping him and six other crewmen. He was burned badly, but managed to escape, hand-over-hand, along a rope strung between the Arizona and the repair ship Vestal.
One of the other crewmen to escape with Stratton, Lauren Bruner, now lives in La Mirada, Calif. The two of them were among four survivors to visit Pearl Harbor last year for a toast to the Arizona's sailors and Marines.
Nikki Stratton works in marketing at the University of Wyoming. Through her job, she became acquainted with a company in Fort Collins, Colo., Community Funded, which develops crowdfunding campaigns.
Over a sandwich one day, she mentioned her grandfather to one of the company's executives. He was, she said, in awe of the story and took it to the company's chief executive, who saw an opportunity to help Donald Stratton and the other survivors return to Pearl Harbor.
"These guys gave up almost everything in their lives for our country to be as free as it is," Nikki said. "We want to make sure they don't have any out-of-pocket expenses to get back for the 75th anniversary."
The initial goal is to raise $35,000 to pay for airfare to Hawaii for as many of the seven survivors who are able to travel, along with their spouses or caregivers. If the campaign exceeds that goal, the additional money would help pay for ground transportation and food during the stay in Honolulu.
The crowdfunding campaign is called the USS Arizona Final Salute and is online at www.arizonafinalsalute.com. In its first week, the campaign has drawn over $5,000 in contributions.
"Telling their story is telling our story as well," she said. "If we don't keep telling the story, keep reminding people that these guys were there, that they sacrificed everything, they're going to fade away."
The seven survivors are scattered around the country: Stratton in Colorado Springs, Bruner in Southern California, Lou Conter in Northern California, Clare Hetrick in Las Vegas, Ken Potts in Provo, Utah, Lonnie Cook in Morris, Okla., and Raymond Haerry in Rhode Island.
An eighth survivor, John Anderson, died in November in a hospital near his home in Roswell, N.M. His remains will be interred in one of the Arizona's gun turrets next December, an honor accorded any sailor or Marine who was assigned to the Arizona the day of the attack.