USS Arizona survivor: 'I knew I had lost a part of myself in the ruins of that ship'
When Donald Stratton talks about his fateful day aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, he often sums up the experience with: “Everybody had to be some place. We were there.”
That’s how the 94-year-old survivor explains the incomprehensible to the generations born in the 75 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s how he can comprehend an inferno that killed 1,177 fellow sailors and Marines aboard the Arizona and yet left him alive, though burned over two-thirds of his body.
He’s equally laconic in explaining why, after spending nearly a year in hospitals recovering from severe burns, he would rejoin the Navy and head off to war.
“All my buddies were in the service, so I just went back in,” Stratton said during a recent phone interview from his Colorado Springs home, where he lives with his wife of 66 years, Velma.
Stratton is one of five Arizona survivors still alive, and he expects to attend the 75th anniversary ceremonies this year, likely for the last time, he said.
“Well, it probably wouldn’t be the last one I want to attend, but I’m 94 years old so I don’t know how much more the good Lord’s got for me, you know?” he said.
Raised in the small Nebraska town of Red Cloud, Stratton joined the Navy in autumn 1940 after first considering enlisting in the Army as his father did when he was young. But after thinking about “the long marches and crawling through the mud, cruising the high seas on the deck of a ship seemed the better alternative,” Stratton wrote in his newly published memoir “All the Gallant Men,” coauthored by Ken Gire.
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