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Colorado Springs Pearl Harbor survivor enlists ally in medal campaign for rescuer

November 11, 2017 Updated: November 11, 2017 at 8:35 pm
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Pearl Harbor survivor Donald G. Stratton. Stratton lives in Colorado Springs, CO and served in the Navy from 1940-1942 and received a medical discharge. Stratton then re-enlisted and served from 1944-1945. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post

Saying he'd been stonewalled by the Navy, Colorado Springs Pearl Harbor survivor Don Stratton met with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Veterans Day in his continuing effort to have the sailor who saved his life awarded a posthumous medal.

Stratton, 95, was a seaman 1st class on the USS Arizona during the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet on Dec. 7, 1941, that drew America into World War II. The Arizona was hit four times, the last bomb detonating its forward magazine, sinking the ship and killing 1,177 of its crew of 1,512.

For the past 16 years, Stratton, one of five living Arizona survivors, has been advocating for a medal for Joe George, a boatswain's mate second class on the USS Vestal. George had been restricted to the ship on the eve of the attack and was facing court-martial for fighting with another sailor, according to an account published on www.azcentral.com before last year's Pearl Harbor anniversary.

A Navy launch pulls up to the blazing USS West Virginia to rescue a sailor, Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor (AP) 

Soon after finishing breakfast, the crew of the Vestal was called to general quarters. Reaching the deck, George saw a Japanese plane and heard an explosion.

A line of Japanese bombers targeted the battleships including the Arizona, which was lifted out of the water by the blast that split it in two. The shock wave and heat from the ammunition exploding could be felt on the Vestal, which was hit by at least two bombs and strafed by fighters.

Its captain had been blown overboard by the blast. George and others desperately fought spreading flames while a senior officer ordered the crew to get underway so that the sinking Arizona wouldn't drag it under as well. That's when George saw Stratton and five other badly burned survivors on the Arizona waving for help as fires raged below them, the report on azcentral.com said.

Ignoring the order to abandon the Arizona and its survivors to its fate, George heaved a weighted line to the Arizona. The line was secured to the doomed ship and Stratton and the others made their way clinging to the line, hand over hand, to the Vestal.

Meeting Stratton's eyes as he struggled to safety, George encouraged him, shouting, "C'mon kid, you can do it," azcentral.com reported.

George was commended for his actions, but never received a medal. Stratton's son, Randy, told the Arizona Republic that the Navy wanted an eyewitness account verifying George's actions, and is deterred by his having disobeyed an order.

"He should have the Navy Cross," Stratton told azcentral.com, referring to the branch's second highest medal for valor.

Stratton is bewildered by the Navy's lack of support. "A guy that saves six lives, I just can't get it out of my head."

With the Navy refusing to yield, the Stratton family has been trying to enlist lawmakers and other allies, including President Donald Trump, to put pressure n the Navy.

At his meeting with Stratton in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Gardner affirmed his support.

"This is bureaucracy at its most insane," Gardner said. "There is no doubt that Joe George saved these men's lives at great peril to himself."

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Contact: 636-0272

Twitter: @joseph_purtell

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