Remembering Pearl Harbor: Don Stratton, One of the Crew of the Arizona, Tells His Story

Remembering Pearl Harbor: Don Stratton, One of the Crew of the Arizona, Tells His Story: If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make so that our freedoms are possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live. Today, we are interviewing Don Stratton who shares with us his first-hand account of Pearl Harbor, what it was like being on the Arizona when it was bombed, and how he served in the rest of the war.

Air Date: 12/07/2017


Guests: Don Stratton, David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture.  This is WallBuilders Live! Where we talk about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, all of it from a Biblical, historical, and Constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton.  he’s America’s premier historian and our founder here at WallBuilders. Tim Barton is our president at WallBuilders and a national speaker and pastor. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator.

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And then at WallBuilders.com there is a wealth of information and some great things for your family by the way.  It’s Christmas-time so be sure and check out some wonderful gifts. You can give the gift of freedom to your friends and family.

David, Tim, today we get to do something we always love doing and it’s actually a special day to do this considering it’s the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. And once in awhile we get to get some of these guys that actually fought in the battles that we talk about on this program. So talk about a historical perspective – we’re actually going to talk to people that actually went there and were part of it.

The War To End All Wars

David:
Yeah, this is living history and we’re talking about three-quarters of a century ago and we get to talk to somebody who was part of that. And it was — this was a very infamous day. This is exactly what brought us into World War II. And none of us, that I know of, no Americans that I’ve read about wanted to get into World War II. President Roosevelt was trying to keep us out of it.

And it’s an interesting thing, civilized nations and civilized people would just make the assumption, other people want peace. If you remember, after World War One they called that “The war to end all wars”.

They were convinced there would be no more wars after that because people were so tired of war. I don’t think it quite worked out that way, but that’s kind of where America was. Because when Pearl Harbor happened, we were still — now imagine, World War One back in 1916 through 1918 for America.

And here we are now in 1941 and we’re still using equipment from World War One. We were of that optimistic mind that, “Nobody is going to want to go to war again. That was the war to end all wars. We are not going to do this again.”

So we’re still using the equipment that is that old because we have this optimism that’s just not the way things work. Even now, people still say, “Why don’t you just sit down with the Muslims and negotiate with them.  we can come to peace.” No that’s not the way it works. They’ve had thousands of years of war and they keep liking war.

Tim:

Which is an interesting side note, the idea that we were not preparing for some kind of war in the future, so making those kinds of advancements. Had it not been for people fleeing Europe – whether it’s people that are fleeing Germany, or fleeing the persecution of the Nazis, or the Italians. So much of our military, and even, really, some scientific advancements came from people that were in Germany. When you look at our spaceship program or rocket program–

David:

Yeah, Wernher Von Braun.

Tim:

There were several things that we made advancements in America, but it was because there were people in Europe that were working for those advancements when we were kind of way behind. And so it was actually people that were fleeing some of these tyrannic things happening in Europe that actually led to America improving those things. Which, I know, was kind of a side issue. Nonetheless significant when you look at American perspective that we really were not thinking we were going to have to deal with or do anything in those regards again.

Pearl Harbor Day

David:
We were so convinced that we didn’t need to be ready for war that no one was going to attack us. We had that mentality.  When we actually got attacked on Pearl Harbor Day we had several signs that the attack was underway, but we kept ignoring them. We said, “Now that can’t be. Those can’t be Japanese planes attacking us. Nobody wants war. Yeah, Hitler’s doing his stuff over there, but we’re not at war.”

And so our mentality was optimistic, which, it’s nice to be optimistic, but it’s just, human nature doesn’t work out that way. And so as a result what we have is now we commemorate Pearl Harbor Day. We don’t celebrate it because there are too many thousand lives lost. We do honor it and commemorate it and those that lost their lives there. But today we get to talk with Don Stratton who was one of the guys and of all places he was on the Arizona which is the number one memorial to Pearl Harbor that is in Pearl Harbor.

When that ship sunk, they did not try to raise it, they did not try to move it. There were too many dead Americans on it and they left it there as a shrine, as a tomb.  It still sits exactly where it sunk. But he was on the Arizona and so what an amazing honor to have Don Stratton be able to tell us about what happened on that day.

Rick:
His book is called All The Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor. Incredible, incredible, story. Looking forward to getting to actually meet him and talk to him over the phone here. Stay with us folks. He’s going to be with us when we come back from the break on WallBuilders Live.

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Why is it Important For Us to Remember?

Rick:
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live, folks! Our special guest today is Donald Stratton. New book out called, All The Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor. This is a very special opportunity for us. We get to visit with a lot of veterans, but I’ve never had the chance to talk someone that was actually on the Arizona. Thank you, first of all, for your service to our country and thank you for writing the book and sharing your story. Why do you think it’s important for people to remember what you guys went through in World War II?
Don Stratton:
Well, there was such a thing that they thought Pearl Harbor was truly impregnable and it just showed up that it wasn’t. And the command didn’t do anything about the destroyer that sunk a sub off the harbor there. They didn’t do anything. They didn’t listen to the two guys on the radar that planes were coming. And there was supposed to be 17 planes or something, 20 planes, from the states instead 200 and they didn’t pay any attention to that.

Rick:
And you were you were on the Arizona for how long before the attack?

Don Stratton:

Over a year or so. We’d been doing maneuvers and stuff out at sea and firing the big guns, and the *guns, and the anti-aircraft guns, and so forth.

Rick:

And were you awake that morning when the attack happened?

Don Stratton:

Reveille was at 0530 every morning.

Rick:

So when they first started attacking, what did you do?

“I Saw The Japanese Insignia”

Don Stratton:
Well, I went to chow and I picked up oranges to take to a buddy of mine in sickbay and went to my locker and went out on the * because ***. So I went to have a look and I seen the insignia, the Japanese insignia, on one of the planes. It was banking and they dropped their bombs and I thought, “Oh that’s the Japanese.” And I started from my battle station which was on sky control platform that was the deck above the bridge. So that was about six or seven ladders up.

Rick:
So you actually saw the Japanese insignia on that plane before the Arizona was hit?

Don Stratton:
Well, we knew that it was the Japanese there because they had — they bombed the island, they bombed *, they bombed the base there–

Rick:
Yeah.

Don Stratton:

And everything before they hit the ships.
Rick:
So where did you go once you knew you were under attack?
Don Stratton:
Well, I went right to my battle station which is on the sky control level and that was one deck above the bridge.

Rick:

And what was your job?

Don Stratton:

I was a sight setter and the port anti-aircraft director.
Rick:
And I guess at this point there are multiple Japanese planes flying around you guys?

“They Were Bombing Us…and Waved At Us, and Smiled, and Everything Else”

Don Stratton:
Oh,  they were all over the place. They were bombing us, they were * us, they flew between us and the vessel, and waved at us, and smiled, and everything else.

Rick:
You’re kidding.

Don Stratton:

Right.

Rick:

Wow. So did you see many of their planes go down?

Don Stratton:
Well, everybody was firing at them. I don’t know who hit any, or what, or whatever. I’m sure some of them went down and we don’t–

Rick:
Yeah.

Don Stratton:

There was so much explosion in the air that we don’t know which ship had done the damage.

Rick:

But you guys were in the battle for about 15 minutes before the Arizona took the big bomb–

Don Stratton:

Right.

Rick:

–and blew up. So, during that 15 minutes that had to be some chaos.
Don Stratton:
Well, we were getting squared away and trying to get our guns going. We had some ready box ammunition we were firing at some of the planes.  We were firing at high altitude bombers, but we were way short on our * so, we didn’t do much damage there.
Rick:

Yeah. What was it like when the bomb hit the Arizona?

“It Was Like Hell”

Don Stratton:
Well, it was like Hell.

Rick:

Yeah.

Don Stratton:

The bomb hit and a million pounds of ammunition and like two hundred thousand gallons of aviation gasoline.
Rick:
So it wasn’t just the bomb itself that exploded – it caused all of the ammunition on the Arizona and the fuel to explode.
Don Stratton:
Yes, it did and it blew about a hundred some odd feet of the Arizona bow clear off.

Rick:

Wow.

Don Stratton

The number one turret, the big fourteen-inch gun turret, evidently had to blow up in the air. That’s my only answer to that because each one of those guns weighed about 90 ton and there’s three of them. And then the gun carriage itself, had blowed it up in the air and it’s back down and just about where it was to start with and still there. And it blowed up the ship, and the deck, and everything else underneath it.
Rick:
Once that hit where did you find yourself?

Burned About 70 Percent of My Body

Don Stratton:
Well, we were in the blast. It was a flare ball and that did tear us up. I was burned about 70 percent of my body. And we tried to get out of the * and we finally did. When I come, the explosion had kind of a settled and the sea breezes blowed most of the smoke away and we got out on the platform trying to get off the Arizona. The only way — no way down, it was all blowed apart down there.

So we have the attention of a gentleman onboard the vessel, they were tied up alongside us, the parent ship. And he threw a * line across and then we tied on a heavier line. We pulled that across, tied it on the Arizona, and we went hand over hand across the line. Got on the vessel, we were all burned, and about 70 feet across the line hand over hand. Got on the vessel and they put us on a shore boat and took us to the beach and put us in an open-air truck and took us to the hospital.
Rick:
This was with your body burned. So, you’re literally — were your hands burned as well? And you’re having to go hand over hand and hold up your weight.

Don Stratton:
Oh. yeah. I don’t have any fingerprints now.
Rick:
Wow. How many of you guys from your group made it across that rope?
Don Stratton:
Six of us, but there’s only two of us alive right now.

Rick:

Wow. Wow. What were you thinking as you’re going across that rope? Did you think you would make it? Or did–

“We Had to Keep Going”

Don Stratton:

Well, we didn’t know, but it was just self-preservation. We had to keep going. But once we got to the middle of the line then we’re going uphill and that was the bad part.
Rick:
That had to be just incredible strength and will to make it across. And here’s the even more incredible thing to add to the story, after you survived this horrible attack, you went home to Nebraska, recovered,–

Don Stratton:

Well, I spent a year in the hospital.

Rick:

A year in a hospital to recover first. A year. Then you go home in Nebraska and you come back to the fight.

Don Stratton:

I re-enlisted, went back in, went to boot camp again in Idaho. Could have stayed there and pushed through camp – we had it. I pushed through one company to have the * company and they let me stay there and do that. And I wanted to go — I just told them I want to go to sea. So, they sent me to Treasure Island. And there was an order there for a gunner that’s been onboard the USS Stack *. And we made five more invasions starting in New Guinea, and *, and *, Okinawa. I actually started the war and I finished it.
Rick:
Wow, you sure did. Yeah, so you — I’m speechless. So you survive Pearl Harbor and then you go back and you’re there for five more invasions. So you were there at Okinawa as well.
Don Stratton:

Right. I’ve still got the scars to prove it.

We Have No Idea the Sacrifice That Has Been Made For Our Freedom

Rick:

Wow. You know, for most people today, we have no idea the sacrifice men like you have made for our freedom. How do you — when we have holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, what does that mean to you and what should it mean to other Americans as well?
Don Stratton:
Well, we have to always celebrate our veterans and our losses. It’s just something that should be done. And we have all these gallant men that were fighting to save our country, so we got to pay respect.
Rick:
Exactly right. Exactly right. And All The Gallant Men, your new book, does it tell the story of both the beginning when you were there at Pearl Harbor and later at the end of the war at Okinawa?
Don Stratton:
Right. We were with the invasion force. Actually, we were with the mine sweeps and our destroyer protecting the mines, went ahead of the invasion force. [Mentions all the battles he was in].
Rick:

I forgot to ask you, so, when you were crossing that rope, what was below you as you were climbing across? Was the water on fire with all the oil?
Don Stratton:
Well, it was part of our own ship–

Rick:

Yeah.

Don Stratton:

— * the water and then onto the vessel.

Rick:

Wow. Okay, I’ve got to ask you, when you got home after the war, were you married while you were in the war or did you get married after the war?
Don Stratton:
No, I was not, but I am now. We’ve been married 67 years.

Rick:

67 years.

Don Stratton:

67, yes.

Rick:

That’s fantastic. And where do you live now?
Don Stratton:
I live in Colorado Springs.

Rick:

Colorado Springs – beautiful part of the country. And your wife’s name?

Don Stratton:

Velma.

Rick:

Velma.
Don Stratton:

Yeah, we had four family members. We lost two girls shortly after birth and then our oldest boy was in Vietnam and Agent Orange got him and we lost him 10 years ago on July 30th. And we only have Randy left and he lives here in Colorado Springs. He’s been a mail carrier for going on 38 years in Colorado Springs and we moved here and been here 10 years.

Why Did You Want to Go Back into the Fight After You Had Already Given So Much?

Rick:
That’s great. I’ve got to ask you, why did you want to go back into the fight after you had already given so much?

Don Stratton:
Well, that’s kind of hard to explain. You just, it’s kind of like maybe getting even or something. I don’t know. But all the troops at that time were all my friends and they were in the service, so I went back.

Rick:

And my understanding is at first they didn’t think you should. They didn’t think you could get back through boot camp.

Don Stratton:
Well, they didn’t think I would make it through and everything else that I was a *, and we had the honor company here in Prairie, Idaho. And they sent me to Treasure Island when they got the destroyer.

Rick:
When you first went to the hospital after Pearl Harbor, I understand they initially wanted to amputate your legs and you refused?

Don Stratton:

No, it was my left arm.

Rick:

Oh, your arm.
Don Stratton:
So where I was, the director, or the trainer, or whatever, jumped up, opened the hatch, and jumped out, and we never seen him again. And I reached out and tried to close the hatch and my arm just got scorched, and my left leg.

Rick:

Wow.

Don Stratton:

And that was the bad part and they couldn’t get it to heal and they wanted to amputate part of it. And I said, “No, I’ll live with it.”
Rick:
And you were still able to go back and fight some more.
Don Stratton:
That’s correct.

How Important is it That We Visit the Places Where These Men Sacrificed?

Rick:
That’s amazing. That’s fantastic. I — we want to honor you, sir, and we want to honor all the men that have served us in this incredible way. And before I let you go, how important do you think it is if folks go to Hawaii and visit Pearl Harbor and visit the Arizona there so that they can be reminded of the sacrifice that you guys made?

Don Stratton:
Well, part of the Arizona is, you know, the kind of all the superstructure fell off, but the main deck is still there and the memorial straddles is. And then the shrine room has got all the names of the casualties and survivors. It’s kind of taxing on your nerves and brings back a lot of memories.

Rick:

Yeah.

Don Stratton:

But, that’s the way the good Lord had His plan I guess.

Rick:
Yeah. And you’ll be headed back for a reunion there this year?

Don Stratton:

Well, we were back last year. I don’t know, we’re kind of thinking about going again this year, yeah…

Rick:

Yeah.
Don Stratton:

But, not just to be there for anything to do. We’re just going to — my wife, and I, and our son and his wife will probably just be there for the ceremony, enjoy Hawaii, and come back.

Rick:

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Well, Mr. Stratton, we appreciate your time. We want to tell your story and want people to realize how blessed we are. We get to enjoy our freedom today because of men like you and we just thank you, sir.
Don Stratton:
Well, I’m sure there’s a lot of other servicemen that’s served as well as I and maybe more and God bless America.
Rick:
Thank you, sir. God bless you as well. We appreciate your time today.

Don Stratton:

Okay, thanks for the call.
Rick:
ArizonaFinalSalute.com and certainly want folks to get the book – All The Gallant Men by Donald Stratton with Ken Gire.
Stay with us, folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.

Share a veteran’s story

We Want To Hear Your Vet Story

Rick:

Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live.  Once in awhile, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people.

One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live, from folks that were in the Band of Brothers, to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live.

You have friends and family that also served.  If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please e-mail us at [email protected]  Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live!

Moment From American History

This is Tim Barton with another moment from American history. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees to every individual the right to keep and bear arms, has been targeted for years now by those who are determined to dismantle the individual right to self-protection.

Opponents argue that, “Only the militia, the military, and law enforcement are to have and use firearms.” But those who wrote the Second Amendment strenuously disagreed, including Founding Father Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the declaration, a president of the Continental Congress, and one of those who actually framed the Second Amendment.

He declared, “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”

For more information about Richard Henry Lee and the history of the Second Amendment go to WallBuilders.com.

You See This Stuff in the Movies, But Here’s a Guy That Lived Through It

Rick:
Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. And thanks to Don Stratton for joining us today. Again, the name of his book – it’s called, All The Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor. And man, just incredible, incredible story. What an amazing opportunity to get to talk to him. Back with David and Tim now. And guys, you see this stuff in the movies, but here’s a guy that lived through it – incredible outcome even. And then to later reenlist, just phenomenal.

David:

There were so many things. To get up on deck and what you see is an airplane and you see the Japanese insignia on it. Do you know how close they have to be to see the insignia on a plane? And he sees that and heads for his battle station. And he said that the pilots waved at them as they were bombing.

That’s kind of like mockery and derision this, “Hi guys, watch this – ca-boom.” And then, I’d never realized that when the Arizona — I knew it got bombed, but I did not realize the bomb went into the magazine. And you’re talking a million pounds of ammunition and 200,000 gallons of aviation fuel went up.

Tim:

Yeah, it’s crazy.

David:

That is, man, he was up high – several decks high. But no wonder he got burned on 70 percent of his body. You know, he said he tried to shut that door, his friend went outside and got incinerated and he tried to shut the door and that’s where he got burned. And then with those hands – are you kidding me?

Rick:

Unbelievable.

No Fingerprints Left

David:

70 feet. He pulls himself hand over hand. And like you said, going uphill – the last part was. I bet it was. No hands – you don’t even have fingerprints now. My gosh what the guy went through. That’s just, that’s unbelievable stuff.
Rick:
Yeah, 70 feet and 45 feet above the flames. I don’t know that I could do that perfectly healthy as I am now – let alone with my body burned and in, you know, probably shock and all the things – unreal.
David:
And the last 35 feet you are pulling yourself uphill. You’ve already lost your skin. What it takes to hold on to an uphill rope and not slide backward. Shoot, that’s guts.
Tim:
But then you sign up for more.

Rick:

Right, no kidding. Oh.

David:

Yeah.

Tim:

But what is interesting to me as he was saying that it was almost like, you know, “Well, that’s where my friends are, what else was I going to do?”

Rick:

Yeah.

Tim:

As if there was no other thought in his mind. Well, that’s my friends and I wasn’t going to not be with my friends. That’s where you have to go. Which really does speak to so much of the camaraderie that certainly guys that have been in combat active downrange. There’s something about a brotherhood in the military when you’ve gone through the fire, in this case, and literally together.

It’s so interesting to hear just where he’s coming from that instead of going, “Hey, it’s overwhelming, it was hard, I don’t want any more of that.” He’s going,” No, no, no, where else am I going to go? Of course, I’m going to go back with my friends. We’re going to continue this fight.” And he got back involved and really just amazing.

Rick:

And not a cush assignment, right. He ends up in the Pacific, some of the toughest battles end up at Okinawa and the Philippines. He was right back in the thick of things.

Fighting the Japanese Was Like Fighting ISIS

David:
Well, the thing that struck me was he listed off, he * off all those battles in the Pacific and none of those were small battles. And the other thing is when we were fighting the Japanese, it was not like fighting the Germans. There’s no such thing as a civilized war. But quite frankly fighting the Germans was much more civilized than fighting the Japanese. Fighting the Japanese was like fighting ISIS.

They fought — not only did they fight dirty, but they also had the mentality that death is a glorious thing. And so you didn’t scare them, you didn’t back them off no matter how many you shot.

You know, one of the things we have in our collection is John Bassalone was a Medal of Honor, awarded the Medal of Honor in Guadalcanal. He was in charge of a machine gun nest. And he had I think 20 guys under him or some assortment and they’re operating all the machine guns and the Japanese kept attacking them. And he held out for several days. Got down to just him and two other guys left and they weren’t in good shape.

So, he kept all the machine guns running himself. But at night he would have to go out and push down the Japanese bodies so he could shoot over them because they kept crawling over each other and he would shoot them and they got so high he couldn’t see what was behind them. That kind of mentality of death is what these guys were fighting in the Pacific.

All The Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor

And so for him to go through that many major battles with a suicide mentality on the other side that’s just not easy stuff. That’s just that’s inexplicable. But, being on the Arizona, Tim and I have been on the Arizona. Anyone who’s not been to Pearl Harbor ought to go. It is quite a memorial and it’s really somber when you’re on the Arizona because you stand on the little memorial they put on what’s left above the ocean and you stand there and you’ll watch the boilers release a little bit of oil just every few seconds there’s a drop of oil that comes bubbling to the top.

And it’s been doing that for three-quarters of a century. It’s kind of like a slow reminder that, “Yeah, we’re still down here. The Arizona’s still here.” And just every few seconds another bubble of oil will come to the top. So, it’s quite a somber place, but it’s a great memorial. And on Pearl Harbor Day we certainly honor those who gave their lives for America. Don Stratton, who is still alive, bless his heart for sharing his story.

Out Of a Crew of 1,511, Don Stratton is One of Only 334 Survivors From the Arizona

Rick:

Out of a crew of 1,511, only 334 survived from the Arizona. Don Stratton the is the only memoir of one of the survivors. All The Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor. Check it out. Phenomenal story.

Thanks so much to Mr. Stratton for joining us today and giving us a chance to visit with him and share his story with our fellow Americans. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live

2017-12-08T23:50:04+00:00 December 7th, 2017|Military & Veterans|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. JM December 7, 2017 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Thank you for honoring the men and women that have served, given their lives and continue to serve this great nation. When I hear this brave man’s story, bravery and strength…then think about the NFL’s disrespect and weakness. There just are no words 😡. Again, thank you for loving our country and spreading positivity and truth.

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