COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — One of just seven living survivors of the USS Arizona lives right here in Colorado Springs.
Donald Stratton, 93, served four years in the United States Navy and was on board the USS Arizona December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
The adventure of being at sea had been a lifelong dream for Stratton, so when he turned 18, he enlisted in the Navy. One year later he was assigned for duty on the USS Arizona.
“It was a terrible day, that day. Terrible,” said Stratton.
74 years later, that’s how Stratton recalls the day that will forever live in infamy.
“Some sailors were hollering and pointing towards Fort Island and we seen one of the planes bank and it was the meatball on the wing and I thought well that’s the Japanese headed right for my battle station which was the sky control platform,” said Stratton.
It was then that Stratton and his fellow crew men prepared for a battle they never imagined.
“Started firing at the high altitude bombers and they were so high we couldn’t even reach them,” said Stratton. “We could see the burst of our shells fall short so we were being strafed and dive bombed and everything else. We could see the pilots in the planes as they went by.”
Stratton, along with five other men, was saved that day when a sailor from another ship tossed them a rope. They climbed 100 feet, hand by hand above the burning fuel-coated water beneath them.
“Quite a few years ago I went to go get a gun permit and found out I didn’t have any fingerprints,” said Stratton. “That’s how bad my hands were burnt when I went across that line.”
Sixty five percent of Stratton’s body was severely burned. He spent the next 10 months recovering in various hospitals until he was medically discharged.
His willingness to rejoin the war effort led him to petition his way back into the Navy. When asked why he wanted to go back, his answer was simple.
“Oh I don’t know, it was just one of those things,” said Stratton.
Stratton’s family is hoping to reunite all seven survivors back in Hawaii, but needs your help.
If you would like to donate to the cause, check out their website at arizonafinalsalute.com .
In Tuesday night’s event alone, they raised more than $1,600.