Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet four of the five remaining survivors from the USS Arizona and it was such a moving experience. The four young men I met are Louis Conter, Ken Potts, Lauren Bruner, and Donald Stratton. When I thanked Donald Stratton for his service during World War II, all he said was, “Someone had to be there and I just happened to be.” I didn’t know how to take this seemingly innocuous statement from a 94 year old man who saw terrible things that day. Donald Stratton must have had a fierce determination to live on December 7 because he was burned over seventy percent of his body when the explosion rocked the ship and sent a fireball a thousand feet into the air. Stratton and Conter survived by climbing hand over hand on a rope that had been strung between the crippled USS Arizona and the service vessel, USS Vestal, which was also in flames from another bombing attack.
This week is a week of tributes and remembrance and while others have forgiven the Japanese since the attack, to a man; these survivors have said that they could never reconcile with the Japanese because 1,177 of their comrades died that day and did not have that opportunity.
I was impressed by the number of people who showed up to express their gratitude to these men at their reception in the Tapa Restaurant at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel.
Over 300 people lined up to speak to these heroes and they ranged in age from children to other World War II veterans. The overriding talk in the line was, “If this happened today, could we handle it and then recover enough to do something about it.” The response from Korean War veteran was “Our country is resilient and there will always be those young men and young women ready to do what is necessary in the cause of freedom.” Another response was “Whatever it takes, our country has the wherewithal to provide it and overcome our enemies.”
My humble hope is that we never have to find out whether or not our country can overcome such a premeditated attack that flung our country into World War II, but these men who are now in their nineties showed me that anything is possible when there are young men like these in our country’s time of need.