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History and Heritage

Donald Stratton

USS Arizona Survivor

Donald Stratton's faded blue home is nearly indistinguishable from its neighbors. An American flag flies proudly in the yard, but that is normal for this community, which lies in the shadow of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The only telltale sign that this house is different is the small license plate placard on the back of his nearly decade-old Lincoln that reads "Pearl Harbor Survivor."

I didn't quite know what to expect as I walked through the opening of the fence and stepped onto the weathered wooden deck leading to the front door. Stratton was there, along with his wife and son, all waiting to welcome me into their home. Even after 73 years, Stratton not only remembers, but eagerly wants to tell the story of what happened to him on Dec. 7, 1941.

That fateful Sunday started as any other did; reveille, chow, holiday routine. It was the same routine that is commonplace onboard Navy vessels to this day. 19-year-old Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton had drawn the short straw and was part of the duty section that was to remain onboard the Pennsylvania-class battleship USS Arizona.

Stratton lingered on deck to grab a few oranges from the recent stores transfer to bring to a friend in sickbay. He was about to head below decks when the first Japanese planes were spotted. As soon as he identified the incoming aircraft as Japanese, Stratton ran to his general quarters station. He made it to the sky control platform before the call to general quarters was made. Stratton's battle station was located on the foremast of Arizona, above and to the port of the bridge.

As the attack unfolded, Arizona was struck by several bombs sustaining major, but repairable damage. Eventually the Japanese hit the forward part of the ship behind the number two turret. This bomb started a chain reaction that penetrated and ignited the main magazine of Arizona. Stratton, from his battle station had a front row seat to the massive explosion, which would sink Arizona and take the lives of 1,177 Sailors.

After the explosion, the dazed and badly burned men on the sky control platform were fighting for their survival. As the fires began to subside, they were able to call for a rope to be thrown over so they could climb to the relative safety of another boat. Stratton, burned on more than 65 percent of his body, had to muster the strength to pull himself more than 85 feet hand over hand above the ruined deck of Arizona. Eventually a mere handful of men were able to use that rope and escape the inferno that was once their home.

Stratton was taken from the waterfront to a hospital where his long and arduous road to recovery would begin. Healing over the next year, Stratton was eventually medically discharged from the Navy and returned home. Not one for inaction, Stratton petitioned the Navy to allow him to re-enlist. The Navy acquiesced and allowed him to re-join with the stipulation that he go through boot camp again. Upon completing boot camp, Stratton wanted to get back into action. Turning down offers from the Navy to remain at boot camp and push boots, he found his way into the pacific theater of the war and served on destroyers until he was discharged again at the end of the war.

As time has passed, Stratton has made the journey to Pearl Harbor numerous times. He has made it his mission that people do not forget the events of Dec. 7, 1941.

As we approach the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, survivors of the attacks are dwindling in numbers. Stratton is one of only nine people still living that were onboard USS Arizona that fateful day. And we will never forget.