On February 15, one of the last three remaining sailors to survive the sinking of the USS Arizona passed away.
Donald Stratton was 97 years old when he passed peacefully at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His wife, Velma, and son, Randy, announced the passing and said that they had been with him at the time.
Stratton was severely burned when the USS Arizona was bombed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
There are now only two remaining survivors of the attack on the Arizona: Lou Conter and Ken Potts.
Stratton spent much of his later years teaching people about the events of that day and reminding people of the great sacrifices made by those who served on the ships that were attacked.
He even published a book, “All the Gallant Men,” which told about the attack, his injuries, his recovery and his eventual return to serve in combat during World War II.
Stratton served on the Arizona along with approximately 1500 men. He worked one of the five anti-aircraft guns on the port side.
On the morning of the attack, he stepped out on the deck in time to see the Japanese war planes attacking the battleships in port.
There was not enough time to fire up the Arizona’s boilers in order to take to the open sea. She was an easy target for the Japanese pilots.
One bomb managed to ignite the ammunition in the forward magazines which caused a massive explosion. Many sailors were set aflame by the explosion.
Stratton was one of those sailors who caught fire. He had third-degree burns over much of his body.
A sailor on a nearby ship managed to through a rope across to the Arizona and Stratton evacuated the doomed battleship by climbing hand-over-hand along 70 to 80 feet of rope.
The escape was made more difficult by the extreme burns on Stratton’s hands and arms.
He was sent to a hospital near San Francisco in order to recover from his wounds. Part of his treatment included having maggots placed on his burns so that they could eat away the dead skin.
He was medically discharged from the Navy in September of 1942.
He then returned to his hometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska. But he soon found himself overwhelmed with a desire to return to combat with the Navy.
After re-enlisting, Stratton served in New Guinea, Papua and Okinawa.
When the war ended, Stratton left the Navy but continued to work at sea with jobs at a diving company and, later, oil drilling platforms out at sea.
Survivors of the USS Arizona are permitted to have their bodies cremated and have the urn with their ashes placed in the wreckage of the ship to join their fallen comrades whose bodies were never recovered.
In the past, Stratton has said that he did not want to be interred in this manner. According to his friend, National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez, Stratton’s thinking was that he had been too close to being burned alive to want to be cremated.