A bittersweet anniversary took place as fur of the remaining nine survivors of the USS Arizona were reunited for the anniversary of one of America’s darkest days. The men promised it would not be the last time they are together.
In advance of the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that sank their ship, the men, members of the USS Arizona Reunion Association, gathered on Tuesday, Dec. 2 for what was the last official survivor gathering of the group. At a news conference that took place in a building which overlooks the Arizona memorial, the me – all over the age of 90 – vowed it wouldn’t be their last meeting, even if they have to meet somewhere other than Hawaii.
Louis Conter, 93, of Grass Valley California declared that the group still has time to go and will be back out here even if no one else can make it.
Donald Stratton, 92, survived having more than 65% of his body burned after the forward part of the ship where he was stationed was hit. His injuries kept him hospitalized for more than a year. The Navy gave him a medical discharge but he reenlisted a year later. He credits the Lord for saving the few that survived.
December 7 marked the 73rd anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the forces of Japan. Over 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers lost their lives. The four survivors toasted shipmates with replicas of wine glasses from their ship and with a bottle of sparkling wine given to the group from President Gerald Ford.
As they arrived for the conference, the men were saluted and treated to music from the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band. They posed for pictures with tourists and reminisced about what happened that day so many years ago.
John Anderson, 97, of Roswell, New Mexico was on his way to breakfast after just having attended church services. Someone told him they’d seen planes heading in and he grew teary-eyed as he spoke about the twin brother he lost that day.
The men watched a live feed of a dive that entered the Arizona. Inside, more than 900 bodies out of the 1,177 who died on the ship still remain interred. Ashes of 38 survivors are also interred there.
Daniel Martinez, a National Park Service historian moderated Tuesday’s discussion. He was overcome with emotion when he shared that Lauren Bruner, 94, of Mirada, Calif. had signed papers indicating his desire to be interred at the Arizona. Conter is making those same arrangements for himself. It is his belief that people will continue to visit the memorial site of the USS Arizona and he and his shipmates will be glad for the company.