Donald Stratton was a 19-year-old Seaman First Class in the Navy when his ship, the USS Arizona, was bombed with several other U.S. battleships in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
Stratton suffered burns over two thirds of his body, but he survived the attack that catapulted the U.S. into World War II. In 2016, he told CPR News about the harrowing scene aboard the ship as more than a thousand crew members tried to get away from the inferno.
"We had no escape there down the hatches, or down the ladder, because everything was so hot you couldn't hardly do anything. One gentleman jumped out and I tried to close the hatch and got burned pretty bad. But [I] just pulled the skin off my arms and threw it down there because it was in the way."
Stratton escaped death that day, by hauling himself hand-over-hand across a 70-foot long rope to another ship, even though the skin on his hands had burned off.
He lived until age 97, and died on Feb. 16, 2020, at his home in Colorado Springs. He is survived by just two other men who were part of the crew of the Arizona that day. Eleven hundred seventy-seven members of their crew died in the attack, which killed 2,403 people in total.
Stratton was the first survivor of the Arizona to write a memoir about his experience, which he published in 2016 with Ken Gire. Gire said at the time that Stratton and other veterans feared the episode would be forgotten.
"His biggest fear at this point in his life, as we were talking, we were starting the book, he said I'm just afraid the story's going to be lost, that nobody's going to remember Pearl Harbor. Or the lessons of Pearl Harbor." Gire said.
After Stratton recovered from the Japanese bombing, he re-enlisted in the Navy. He served in both the first and the last battles of World War II.
Last year an exhibit opened at the Colorado Springs Airport honoring Stratton's service.
Gire said in 2016 that while some of the physical wounds Stratton suffered stayed with him for life, so did the emotional scars of seeing thousands of his fellow service members die.
"They saw so much, and there was so much brutality ... To see them so savagely cut down in the prime of life, and all the gifts that they had to offer the world rescinded in that moment. He was never able to recover from that," Gire said.
"The trauma, the memories, have never gone away."
UPDATE Feb. 19
A memorial service has been announced for Stratton in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Feb. 29, at 10am.
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