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Colorado Springs Pearl Harbor survivor present as sailor who saved him is honored

December 7, 2017 Updated: December 7, 2017 at 10:24 pm
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Donald Stratton, right, attended the Bronze Star Medal award ceremony Thursday in Hawaii, with his wife, Velma, left. The couple were joined by JoeAnn Taylor, middle, daughter of Joe George, who saved Stratton's life on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The group posed by the USS Arizona bell that hangs in teh USS Arizona Memorial visitors' center in Hawaii. Courtesy photo by Nikki Stratton.

Dec. 7, 1941 - "a date which will live in infamy" - has been deeply troubling for Colorado Springs resident Donald Stratton for the past 76 years.

He was aboard the USS Arizona on that day when the Japanese launched their surprise attack, raining bombs on Pearl Harbor, the main base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Moored in the harbor were more than 70 warships, including eight of the fleet's nine battleships - among them, the Arizona. The attack killed 2,403 Americans and brought America into World War II.

Stratton's life, however, was miraculously spared.

And this year's National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was brighter because the man who saved Stratton's life finally got his due - a posthumous Bronze Star Medal.

"It's a culmination of 16 years' worth of trying to get this man who saved my grandfather honored, so today is a very special moment for us as a family," said Stratton's granddaughter, Nikki Stratton.

The family of the late Joseph George, including his daughter, JoeAnn Taylor, accepted the medal Thursday at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii.

Stratton, 95, his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter witnessed the award ceremony on the hulk of the ship that remains as a memorial to the men who lost their lives there.

"It's a very special moment for us as a family to come together and remember what Joe George did," Nikki Stratton said in a phone interview from Hawaii. "We wouldn't be here without him, literally."

George's daughter, Taylor, and Stratton were among those featured in a CBS Sunday Morning segment about George's perilous deed last Sunday.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner spoke on the Senate floor of the heroic act.

George, who in 1941 was a 26-year-old crew member of a repair ship moored next to the Arizona, withstood the cascading explosions and saw that six badly burned sailors were trapped on the Arizona's main mast, Gardner said.

Despite the fact that he was ordered to cut the rope between the sinking Arizona and the repair ship, the USS Vestal, George "would take swift and decisive action, putting his own life on the line to save sailors whom he had never met and would never know," Gardner said.

George heaved the rope 80 feet to reach the sailors, who tied it down and shimmied across it to board the Vestal.

Two of the six sailors succumbed to their injuries, but the remaining four, including Stratton, had George to thank for their lives.

Stratton served in the Navy from 1940-1942 and received a medical discharge. He then re-enlisted and served from 1944-1945.

It wasn't until 36 years later that George was identified as the man who rescued the servicemen from the Arizona, when he divulged the feat in an oral history interview.

Gardner said the information was verified as truth through ship log records, the commanding officer's remarks and other surivivors.

"My hope is that Joe's valiant story joins the permanent foundation of Joe's history to appreciate the sacrifice of countless heroes that come before him," Gardner said.

But it was difficult to get the Navy to agree to the commendation until Gardner pushed for it, Nikki Stratton said.

Gardner met with Donald Stratton - one of five USS Arizona shipmates still alive of the 334 who survived the attack - in July in Washington, when Stratton visited the World War II Memorial, to discuss George's actions.

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