American Veteran 04

Donald G Stratton

July 14, 1922 ~ February 15, 2020 (age 97)

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Obituary

Donald G. Stratton, was born July 14, 1922 in Inavale, Nebraska to Robert and Jessie Stratton and upon graduation from high school in Red Cloud, he enlisted in the Navy and was a Seaman First Class aboard the USS Arizona.

He was united in holy matrimony to Velma D’Ette Lockhart on April 23, 1950. The couple was married for 69 years where they travelled the world and grew a beautiful family.

Mr. Stratton loved God, loved his country and loved his family. He quietly departed this life Saturday, February 15, 2020 in his Colorado Springs, CO home alongside his wife and son. He was preceded in death by his parents, Robert and Jessie, daughters Gypsy Dawn and Roxane Jo and son Robert, brother Daryl and sister Norma and great grandson DJ.

He is survived by his brother Willie and his son Randy Stratton (Kathy) and wife Velma.

His legacy will forever be cherished in the lives of his grandchildren: Dana Stratton, Kimberly Brewer, Robert Stratton Jr., (Becky), Jessika Caldwell (Tony) and Nicole Stratton. His great grandchildren were so blessed to have spent precious years hearing his stories: Nathan Hernandez, Jax Brewer, Robert Stratton, Kennedy Stratton, Emersyn Caldwell, Bryce Caldwell and Boden Caldwell.

Donald Stratton was one of the last three remaining survivors of the USS Arizona. On the morning of December 7, 1941, a 19-year-old Donald was beckoned to his battle station as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor sending the Navy's flagship, the USS Arizona to the depths. On that day, 1,177 men perished in the explosion leaving just 300 alive. Donald was burned over 65% of his body and escaped the inferno by climbing across a line to a neighboring ship—the USS Vestal. In an incredible act of courage, Donald and fellow survivor Lauren Bruner were saved by a sailor named Joe George.  After years of striving to recognize Joe for his heroism that day, Donald, Lauren Bruner and their families, stood aboard the USS Arizona Memorial December 7, 2018 to posthumously honor Joe George with a Bronze Star with a “V.” The courage and bravery of Joe and the grit and grace of Donald has weaved together a precious community of families that hope to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive.

After spending over a year in the hospital recovering, Donald re-enlisted in the US Navy as WWII was still raging. At first, the Navy wouldn't allow Donald to re-enlist due to his medical discharge, however he proved them wrong by going through boot camp a second time. He participated in six more invasions aboard the USS Stack. After WWII ended, he was 100% medically discharged and went on to work with deep sea divers and oil rigs offshore.

Mr. Stratton’s life was recently chronicled in the New York Times Best Seller, All the Gallant Men.

In the book, Donald references a poem that was placed in the wallet of Eleanor Roosevelt where it reads, “Somehow out there, A man died for me today. As long as there be war, I must answer Am I worth dying for?”

Throughout his life, Donald asked himself that very question. Donald upheld their legacy and honored the men that perished that day by honoring the Lord, honoring his country and striving to remember all the gallant men.

Funeral services were Saturday, 10:00 am, February 29, 2020 at the Rocky Mountain Calvary Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Graveside services with full military honors were 11:00 am, Monday, March 2, 2020 at the Red Cloud Cemetery, Red Cloud, Nebraska.

IN LIEU OF FLOWERS....MEMORIALS ARE SUGGESTED TO THE "USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL FUND."

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PHOENIX – Through the soles of his shoes, Donald Stratton could feel the heat from the platform where he stood on the wounded USS Arizona. The battleship shuddered as another explosion, the most powerful yet, cracked its hull.

Six men huddled on the port side fire control tower, burned badly, trapped as the ship sank in the shallow waters near Honolulu that day, Dec. 7, 1941. Had it been only 14 minutes since Japanese bombers shattered the morning, 14 minutes since an air ambush brought war to Pearl Harbor?

Smoke and flames choked the air, but Stratton saw someone moving on a smaller ship that had been tethered to the Arizona. A sailor on the ship, a supply vessel called the USS Vestal, was about to cut the line when he saw the six men on the tower. Stratton watched as the sailor waved off another man on the deck and struggled with a line.

He heaved it toward the Arizona. Stratton and the others snagged it and secured it to the tower. This was their way out, hand over hand across 70 feet of rope above a burning oil slick.

The sailor on the Vestal motioned to the six Arizona crewmen. His eyes met Stratton’s.

“C’mon kid,” he yelled. “You can do it!”

Years later, Stratton and his son, Randy, learned that the sailor, a boatswain’s mate named Joe George, had defied orders to cut the line to the Arizona and had never been recognized for what he did. The Strattons knew they had to right that wrong.

“Without Joe, my dad wouldn’t have been here,” Randy Stratton said Sunday. “He would have died on that platform.”

Instead, he escaped the flames, recovered and went on to reenlist in the Navy, work in the commercial diving business and travel the world.

Donald Stratton died late Saturday at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His wife, Velma, and his son, Randy, were with him. He was 97.

Stratton will be eulogized at services in Colorado Springs and buried in a family plot in his hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska.

With his death, only two survivors remain from the last crew of the USS Arizona: Lou Conter, 98, of Grass Valley, California, and Ken Potts, 98, of Provo, Utah. The attack on Dec. 7, 1941, attack killed 1,177 sailors and Marines on the mighty battleship, sparing 335.

From the prairie to the sea

Donald Stratton graduated from high school in 1940, a star athlete who needed work during hard times. A lot of young men were joining the military as rumors buzzed about when the United States might be dragged into the war. Stratton figured he could do with the $21 a month, so he joined the Navy.

“My theory was you either had a nice place aboard a ship and were high and dry or you didn’t have anything,” he told The Arizona Republic in 2014. “In the Army, you were crawling around in the mud and everything else, and I didn’t want to do that.”

After boot camp, he was sent to the Navy shipyards in Bremerton, Washington, where he got his first look at the Arizona, in dry dock undergoing maintenance and, most people assumed, being fitted for war.

“It was quite a sight for an old flatlander like me to see a 35,000-ton battleship out of the water,” he said.

By early 1941, the Arizona had steamed down the coast and put in at Pearl Harbor. The crew settled into a routine, in port and on training exercises at sea. The crew learned to work the ship’s guns, the big ones and the smaller ones, firing at floating targets miles away.

“They fired all 12 guns to the port side of the ship one time and moved us sideways in the water 30 or 60 feet or so,” said Stratton, who was a Seaman 1st Class by then. “It was thunderous.”

After the attack, a return to service

Reveille sounded at 5:30 the morning of Dec. 7. Stratton finished breakfast and filled his white hat with oranges on his way to visit a buddy in sick bay. He stopped at his locker, aft of the No. 2 gun turret, and as he walked out, he heard loud voices.

“They were all yelling and pointing toward Ford Island,” he said. “I looked over and seen the water tower go over. One of the planes banked, and I seen the rising sun and said, ‘Well, that’s the Japanese, man – they’re bombing us.’”

Stratton headed for his battle station, a steel cube that housed the controls for 25-caliber anti-aircraft guns. Stratton was a sight setter. He cranked a gauge in front of him and yelled the coordinates to the gun crew.

They fired the guns, but the bombers were too high. The Arizona took fire but could barely return its own. Barely 10 minutes into the attack, a bomb pierced the forward deck and buried itself in the Arizona’s ammunition stores. The explosion lifted the ship out of the water. The bow sagged. A fireball swallowed the control tower where Stratton had climbed minutes before.

Minutes later, the heaving line secured to the tower, the six men climbed down the rope to the Vestal. Stratton was second to go. Second to last was Lauren Bruner, a fire controlman who died in September.

Stratton was burned over much of his body. He was taken to a hospital in San Francisco, where he convalesced for the better part of 1942. Finally, he was given a medical discharge and returned to Nebraska.

A year later, he reenlisted. The war still raged in the Pacific. The Navy offered him a job as a chief petty officer running recruits through boot camp in Idaho.

“I said no, I wanted to go to sea,” Stratton said. “Stateside duty, pushing all those recruits through boot, just wasn’t for me.”

He joined the USS Stack, a destroyer headed for the Pacific. Stratton fought in the invasion of the Philippines, in the invasion of Okinawa, on patrol with radar, reporting the advance of suicide bombers.

After the war, he returned home for a while, but he felt the call of the sea again and went to work on an oil ship off California. Bored of the routine, he went into the commercial diving business, traveling the world.

"Once I made a dive in a two-man submarine, down in over 1,200 feet of water off Santa Barbara coast," he said. "One of the first people to do that."

In his dining room in Colorado Springs, he kept a replica of a diving helmet, the kind divers on his crew used.

Securing an honor for a hero

In 1966, Stratton returned to Pearl Harbor with his family. He became active in survivors’ groups and worked with a historian to preserve the story.

In time, he tried to let go of his anger toward the Japanese, but he could never forget what happened. Sometimes, Japanese pilots attended memorial ceremonies, and some of the other survivors would shake their hands. Stratton could not.

"Listen, all those men down there on that ship, a thousand of them, they wouldn't do it, and I don't think they'd want me to do it," he said. "We can't forget what happened there that day. We can't let it happen again.”

He and Velma retired to Yuma, where they lived for about 15 years. They moved back to California briefly and then settled in Colorado Springs. It was there he and Randy started their campaign to recognize Joe George, the sailor who threw the line to the burning Arizona.

Stratton would learn that George, who died in 1996, had defied orders to cut the Vestal’s line, a decision that likely cost him a commendation. The Stratton men called and wrote letters, telling George’s story to anyone who would listen.

In July 2017, Stratton, Bruner and Potts were invited to the White House, where they made their plea to President Donald Trump. On Dec. 7, Stratton, Bruner and Conter watched on board the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor as the Navy awarded George a posthumous Bronze Star for Valor.

'I've told my stories'

Stratton told his own story many times over the years. In 2016, he published a memoir, “All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor's Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor.” After that, Randy said, he was done.

“I’ve told my stories,” he told people.

“We should never forget what these guys did for us,” Randy said Sunday from Colorado Springs. “Go read his book, know the sacrifices they made for you. He’s a true American hero.”

He was well known in Colorado Springs, a regular at car shows, where he brought his 1965 Chevrolet pickup. The license plate read USS ARIZ, and a mural on a white bed cover depicted the USS Arizona and the memorial that floats above it in Pearl Harbor.

Randy and his mother were with Stratton when he died Saturday. He wanted to be at home, Randy said.

Survivors of the Arizona can choose to have their ashes interred in the sunken battleship in Pearl Harbor, but Stratton decided long ago he did not want that.

After a lifetime at sea, Stratton will return to his home on the prairie.

This article originally appeared on The Republic | azcentral.com: USS Arizona survivors: Donald Stratton dies in Colorado Springs at 97

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Don Stratton, One of Three Remaining Crew from USS Arizona, Dies at 97

 

FILE -- In this file photo from Dec. 7, 2016, Donald Stratton, center, a USS Arizona survivor shakes the hand of an admirer at Kilo Pier next to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

17 Feb 2020

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | By William Cole

Don Stratton, who escaped a burning USS Arizona by making a harrowing hand-over-hand climb across a rope to an adjacent ship on Dec. 7, 1941, died Saturday, leaving just two living survivors of the famed battleship.

"We are profoundly sad to say that last night, Feb. 15, USS Arizona Survivor Donald Stratton passed away peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his wife of nearly 70 years, Velma, and his son Randy, " Pearl Harbor National Memorial Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the memorial, said, "God bless him and his beloved family. My hero is gone but will always be in my heart. He is now part of our national memory."

The Colorado Springs man was 97. An Arizona crew that once numbered 1, 512 is now down to two. Survivors Lou Conter and Ken Potts are both 98.

It was 8:06 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, when death raced through the USS Arizona, chasing them all. A 1, 760-pound Japanese high-altitude armor-piercing bomb had penetrated the Arizona's decks 40 feet from the bow, igniting a million pounds of gunpowder for the ship's massive 14-inch guns.

Stratton, then a seaman 1st class, described it in his book, "All the Gallant Men, " as a "great sucking sound, like a whoosh " that rocked the ship with concussive force.

The explosion blew apart the forward decks, collapsing turret No. 1 some 28 feet and sending a fireball 500 feet into the air. Stratton, 19, and several other men were in a metal box 70 feet off the water – the port side anti-aircraft "director " – where they were in danger of being cooked to death.

"The flames swallowed the foremast where we were, " the Nebraska native said in the book. "As they shot through the two openings of the enclosure, we shielded ourselves by taking shelter under some of the equipment, our hands covering our mouths and eyes. But the flames found us, catching us all on fire, burning off our clothes, our hair, our skin."

Six men, Stratton included, were saved by climbing hand-over-hand on a rope thrown at the last second by a sailor on the adjacent repair ship USS Vestal in one of the most dramatic rescues of the day.

Stratton received burns over 65% of his body. A total of 1, 177 men were killed on the Arizona.

Conter, who was on the stern of the battleship when the big bomb hit, returned to Pearl Harbor for the most recent Dec. 7 observance, in part to be present for the interment of fellow crew member Lauren Bruner.

Bruner, who also made the climb across the rope with Stratton, died Sept. 10 at age 98.

"We have to bury Lauren Bruner ... so I had to come back, " Conter, sitting in a wheelchair, said shortly after he arrived. "I'll come out every year I can until I'm gone."

For Stratton, Bruner and the four other men, salvation appeared in the form of Joe George, a sailor and boxer on the Vestal.

The order had been given for the Vestal to cut loose from the Arizona and head for open water, Stratton said in his book. Before George extended a lifeline to the men on the Arizona, he had been using an axe to cut the mooring lines.

George and the ship's captain "were engaged in some kind of a debate, a heated one " that conveyed to Stratton that "we didn't have a chance."

But George stood his ground, and the six men, although badly burned, were able to climb hand over hand above oily, burning water to safety.

"One thing is for certain : Had Joe George not stood up for us, had he not been a rebel and refused to cut the line connecting the Vestal to the Arizona, we would have been cooked to death, " Stratton wrote. "If anyone deserved a Medal of Honor that day, in my opinion, it was him."

The Navy said George, who died in 1996, was commended in 1942 but he never received any medal for his actions. For more than a decade, Stratton and Bruner lobbied for George to get a Navy Cross or other medal.

In 2017, Stratton, Bruner and Potts met at the Pentagon with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, secretary of defense and chief of naval operations to honor George.

In conjunction with the Dec. 7 ceremony that year, the deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet presented a Bronze Star with "V " Device for Valor to George's daughter, Joe Ann Taylor, aboard the USS Arizona Memorial.

Stratton, Bruner and Conter were front and center.

"One of Donald's final wishes was that people remember Pearl Harbor and the men aboard the USS Arizona. Share their story and never forget those who gave all for our great country, " Stratton's family said on Facebook. 

This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial was flown at half-staff in honor of Stratton’s life and service, the National Memorial said.

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Interment
Monday
March 2, 2020

11:00 AM
Red Cloud Cemetery

Red Cloud, Nebraska 68970

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