The Japanese administered a devastating blow to the U.S. Navy on December 7, 1941. However, the most crushing tragedy happened against the USS Arizona. Her defeat resulted in 1,177 deaths. This accounted for almost half of the casualties occurring from the overall attack.
This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the “date that will live in infamy”. Only five crewmen of the Arizona remain. Several made arrangements to travel to Oahu, Hawaii, for the ceremonies at Pearl Harbor to once again pay their respects.
On that notorious day in 1941, the Arizona was in harbor undergoing minor repairs. If not for the USS Vestal repair ship moored along side her, many of Arizona’s 335 surviving sailors and Marines would have also perished.
Lauren Bruner, 96, remembers preparing for church on that peaceful morning. After the alarms sounded, he raced up five stories of ladders to man his anti-aircraft gun. The Japanese were already showering the harbor with bombs and bullets, some of which hit Burner’s leg. Bruner never made it to his gun.
Four armor-piercing bombs resulted in massive explosions aboard the Arizona. The battleship sunk within 9 minutes.
Bruner recalls an explosion at his station.
“That’s where the flames blew right through and cooked me right there.”
He remembers “everything burning” as men tried to escape the engulfed ship. He and five shipmates called to a sailor on the Vestal to throw them a rope. The AP reports:
“The six of them tied the rope and carried themselves hand-over-hand across the 100-foot expanse to the USS Vestal.”
Navy documents reveal Bruner “suffered burns on his face and the back of his neck, his right shoulder, right arm and forearm, fingers, hands, outer thighs and lower legs.”
Likewise, Bruner’s shipmate, Donald Stratton, 94, escaped the Arizona the exact same way. He is attending this year’s ceremony as well.
Stratton recently published his story in, All the Gallant Men, coauthored by Ken Gire.
Stratton writes in his book about seeing a Japanese Zero repeatedly attack Arizona’s deck. The enemy fighter flies by again so low that he “could see the pilot in his leather helmet and goggles taunting me with a smirk and a wave as he passed.”
As reported by Star and Stripes, Stratton also writes:
“Men stumbled around on the deck like human torches, each collapsing into a flaming pile of flesh,” Stratton wrote. “Others jumped into the water. When they did, you could hear them sizzle.
“Up where we were, there was no one directing us, no way of escape, and no hope.
“My T-shirt had caught fire, burning my arms and my back. My legs were burned from my ankles to my thighs. My face was seared. The hair on my head had been singed off, and part of my ear was gone.”
In his recount of the escape by rope, Stratton writes:
“We had to go hand over hand on that line, and that was probably 70 or 80 feet. You know, you get to the middle of the line and it starts uphill again. That was really tough, with my hands and everything burned.”
Both men heroically returned to the Navy after their recoveries to continue serving. Stratton found closure when his new ship, the USS Stack, stopped in Pearl Harbor in 1944 on it’s way to the Pacific conflict. Even though the superstructure was already gone, he was overcome by emotions. To his surprise, the captain mustered the ship’s crew. The captain then presented Stratton with a Purple Heart.
While Stratton was able to put his memories to paper, Bruner still does not like to talk about that horrible day.
“There are parts of this whole thing that I can’t talk about. If I do talk about it, I cannot sleep.”
Many of the 335 survivors directed their ashes scattered or buried with the USS Arizona upon their passing. Similarly, Bruner plans to participate in this tradition as well, choosing the ship over a “sparsely visited cemetery”.
Hence, the reason we refer to the World War II generation as “The Greatest Generation”.
But that’s just my 2 cents.