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4 of last 5 USS Arizona crew members to attend ceremonies

USS Arizona survivors Lauren Bruner, far left, and Donald Stratton, center, visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on July 20, 2017. To the far right is Stratton's wife, Velma.

MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: December 5, 2017

(Tribune News Service) — Four of the last five crew members of the USS Arizona will be at Pearl Harbor on Thursday to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the “Day of Infamy” on Dec. 7, 1941.

Last year, the much-publicized 75th was, by virtue of the age of survivors, the final big hurrah.

Like other Pearl Harbor survivors, the five remaining crew of the Arizona are in their mid- to upper 90s. Lauren Bruner is 97, Don Stratton is 95, Lou Conter is 96, Ken Potts is 96 and Lonnie Cook, who won’t be making the trip, is 97.

Stratton, who lives in Colorado Springs, sums up what’s still important whether the ceremony is big or small.

“I lost a lot of shipmates that day, and I remember them,” he said in a phone interview.

A total of 1,177 men were killed when a Japanese 1,760-pound aerial bomb pierced the decks of the battleship, setting off a million pounds of gunpowder for its 14-inch guns. Most of the dead are still entombed in the sunken vessel and memorial. Either 334 or 335 men survived.

The National Park Service, the caretaker for the memorial, each year seeks to add meaning to the attack that launched America into World War II.

This year’s theme, “Rising to the Challenge,” will highlight events “during the first year after the attack, 75 years ago, as the United States rose to face challenges, both at war and on the home front, in order to achieve greater peace, freedom and democracy in the world,” the park service said.

Steve Twomey, author of “Countdown to Pearl Harbor,” will deliver the keynote address.

The venue for the combined 7:50 a.m. park service and Navy commemoration is the ceremonial lawn at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the visitor center for the USS Arizona Memorial.

Last year, to accommodate larger attendance, about 3,800 chairs were set up for the observance at Pearl Harbor’s nearby Kilo Pier, and all were filled. This year, 2,000 chairs will be set up under a tent, and everything else will be standing room only. Stephanie Loeb, a park service spokeswoman, said between 2,000 and 3,000 people are expected.

Moment of silence

Four local Pearl Harbor survivors are expected to attend, and about 25 other Pearl Harbor and World War II veterans have indicated so far to the Navy they are coming, Loeb said.

A moment of silence will be observed at 7:55 a.m., about the time the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began. The guided missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon will render pass-in-review honors, and a “missing man” F-22 Raptor flyover will be conducted by the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 199th Fighter Squadron and the Air Force’s active-duty 19th Fighter Squadron.

While the USS Arizona serves as the focal point for Dec. 7, 1941, the larger Pearl Harbor and Oahu attack is part of the commemoration. A ceremony for the 429 crew lost on the USS Oklahoma will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Ford Island.

Observances also are being held by the Air Force on the Hickam side of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, at Fort DeRussy by the Army, and at Kaneohe Bay by the Marines.

In the tragedy that was Pearl Harbor, about 2,455 men, women and children were killed in the wider attacks on Oahu. That includes 2,390 American service members and Oahu civilians, 56 Japanese aviators and up to nine Japanese submariners.

Twenty-one ships of the Pacific Fleet, including eight battleships, were sunk or damaged, and 164 aircraft were destroyed.

“Pearl Harbor is a saga of swift action, stark tragedy and great heroism,” wrote author Gordon W. Prange in “At Dawn We Slept.”

Stratton and Bruner were two of six men on the Arizona who, despite being badly burned, were saved by climbing hand-over-hand across a rope thrown over at the last second by a sailor on the adjacent repair ship USS Vestal in one of the most dramatic rescues of the day.

Everett Hyland, now 94, was helping run ammunition for a 3-inch anti-aircraft gun on the USS Pennsylvania when a bomb exploded, ripping open his ankle and right hand and chipping a bone in his right leg. He had five pieces of shrapnel in his right leg and a piece blown out of his left thigh.

“So I was a medical challenge,” Hyland, who lives in Honolulu, said recently. “I put nine months in the hospital, and then went back to sea.”

Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said in a release: “On this Dec. 7, we will once again remember and honor those who were killed 76 years ago and in the war that followed. At the same time, we will commemorate the reconciliation, security, stability and prosperity our veterans and their families achieved, beginning here at Pearl Harbor.”

©2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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