Against all odds, brave sailors struggled to save their fellows during the attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago this Thursday. But for the hero who saved two lives aboard the battleship Arizona that day, official recognition took almost as long. Our Cover Story is reported by David Martin:
On December 7, 1941, a Japanese bomb went off in the forward ammunition magazine of the USS Arizona, setting off a cataclysmic explosion. More than 1,100 Marines and sailors were killed.
Donald Stratton and Lauren Bruner survived the inferno, and then beat the actuarial tables to live well into their nineties. They came to Washington to win recognition for the sailor who saved them that day.
“We got out on the deck, on the hot steel deck, and he throwed us a heaving line,” said Stratton.
The sailor was on the repair ship USS Vestal tied up next to the Arizona. Stratton, Bruner and four other men were trapped on that platform, badly burned and about to be roasted alive.
“After about three or four throws, he finally got the line over to us,” Stratton recalled. “We pulled it across and tied it off on the Arizona, and we went hand-over-hand across the line to the Vestal, about 70 or 80 feet. He was probably the only guy that could have got that line to us.”
For years, neither man knew who that sailor was. But now they do. He was a 26-year-old Boatswain’s Mate named Joe George.
Before he died, George did an interview with University of North Texas for an oral history of the “day of infamy.” It is the only record that exists of him telling his own story.
“One of these books is written about Pearl Harbor that the unknown sailor on the Vestal throwing a line over to the Arizona sailors. I’m that unknown sailor that whoever wrote the book didn’t find,” he said.
When Martin characterized George’s description of his role as understated, George’s daughter, Joe Ann Taylor, replied, “Yep, well, that’s kind of probably how he was about it.”
Taylor had never heard her father tell that story, until she heard the recording: “That was so emotional. My father had been dead 19 years, and I hadn’t heard his voice in 19 years, and I sat out there in the garage in the car, and I just cried and listened to him talk.”
“They were surrounded by fire on the Arizona. They were stranded over on the…