Ken Beaton: Honoring our past, inspiring our future
“There are no extraordinary men … just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with,” Admiral William “Bull” Halsey.
The USS Arizona, BB-39, had a crew of 1,512, 335 survived December 7, 1941. Today, there are only five living survivors: Lauren Fay Bruner, FC 3/c; Louis Anthony Conter, QM 3/c; Raymond John Haerry, Cox; Howard Kenton Potts, Cox; and Donald Gay Stratton S 1/c. Don Stratton will attend the 75th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor ceremonies with his wife, one son and one granddaughter. At age 94 this will be his last visit to the Arizona Memorial.
In Don’s book, ALL THE GALLANT MEN: AN AMERICAN SAILOR’S FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT OF PEARL HARBOR, he wrote, “It’s been said that when an old person dies, it is like a library burning down. Having survived a fire that took so much from me, I have an obligation to save what memories I have from the flames that will one day come and claim what is left of me. What will become of the memories that I as a survivor have experienced? Or the lessons that we as a nation have learned?”
As a child of the Great Depression, he graduated from high school in Red Cloud, Nebraska in May 1940. There were no full-time jobs. A Navy recruiter set up a table in the US Post Office in September 1940. He told Don, “The Navy pays you to see the world with free room and board (a roof over your head and three meals a day) plus $21 a month!” Don enlisted immediately.
The Arizona was scheduled to sail to Bremerton, WA in November 1941 for several months of shipyard maintenance. The crew was excited about the possibility of being stateside and home for Christmas of 1941. Unfortunately on October 22, 1941 in a thick fog without radar, the USS Oklahoma was out of sync and collided with the Arizona on the port (left) side. The Arizona was repaired which delayed the scheduled voyage to Bremerton. If the collision had not happened, the Arizona would have been in Bremerton, not Pearl Harbor on December 7th.
DECEMBER 7TH 05:30 hours the Arizona’s intercom sounded reveille. Between 06:10 to 06:20 hours 220 miles north of Oahu, six Japanese carriers launched the first wave, 181 planes. 06:45 hours at the entrance to Pearl Harbor the USS Ward, a destroyer fired on an unidentified submarine. The Ward’s second 4” shell sunk the sub. 07:00 hours the Ward reported to the authorities at Pearl, but the ships in Pearl Harbor were not alerted. 07:00 hours at Opana Point radar station on Oahu’s north shore two enlisted radar operators called their commanding officer, Lt. Kermit Tyler, about a large aircraft formation. Lt. Tyler told the radar operators that a squadron of B-17s was scheduled to arrive from the West Coast and not to be alarmed. 07:51 hours USAAC’s Wheeler Field in attacked by Japanese planes. 07:53 hours Kaneohe and Ewa Mooring Mast Field are attacked lead by Commander Fuchida. 07:55 hours Pearl Harbor is attached. 08:06 a 1,760 pound armor-piercing bomb was released from 10,000 feet above to penetrate four decks and exploded in the ammunition magazine. The No 1 turret was blasted in the air to fall on the deck with a five to six hundred foot fireball shooting above the ship. Instantly, the blast killed 1,177 sailors and marines inside the ship.
I recommend you read Don’s book to fully comprehend what it was like being attached 75 years ago. The following is a paragraph from his book.
“The entire fleet was being destroyed before my eyes. Bombs were going off everywhere. Great billows of smoke were eating up the blue sky and turning it black. Torpedoes slammed against our hulls, spewing geysers of water into the air. Ships were taking on water, listing, capsizing. And from those ruptured ships spilled oil that congealed when it hit the water and caught fire. It seemed the whole harbor was in flames, and a spreading lake of fire. The hellish sight of blacks and reds and yellows, devouring everything. The sulfurous smell of burning fuel. The acrid smell of exploding gunpowder.
If you visit the Arizona Memorial, each name on the wall was loved by family and friends. Sometimes there are two or three same surnames. In those days the Navy allowed a father and son or two or more brothers to serve on the same ship. Imagine the shock and grief a wife or mother experienced when she read The Telegram, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband and son were killed in action in defense of their country on December 7, 1941 in Hawaii.” Words cannot begin to describe her emotional experience.
“Somehow out there
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I must answer.
Am I worth dying for?”
On December 7, 1941 First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, placed the above poem in her wallet and carried it with her for the remainder of her life, Nov. 7, 1962.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.