At 11 years old, Brooke Schocke visited Pearl Harbor for the first time and made it her mission to meet a survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.
Years later, that mission brought the Texas high school student all the way to Colorado Springs to honor Donald Stratton, one of the last USS Arizona survivors in the Pikes Peak region, on the anniversary of the surprise attack that catapulted America into World War II.
“It is such a historical moment. I really want to spread awareness of making sure we don’t’ forget about our veterans because they have done so much for us,” Schocke said Friday before a ceremony at the Pioneers Museum to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack.
She met Stratton and his family last year during the ceremony for the 77th anniversary and has been in touch since. On Friday, she wore small shards of the stricken ship on a chain around her neck — a gift from Stratton.
The 97-year-old, who has lived in Colorado Springs for the last decade, was recovering from pneumonia at home and unable to attend Friday’s ceremony.
The connection between Schocke, now 15, and the Pearl Harbor survivor is “critical,” said retired Navy Capt. Bob Lally, who has been a driving force in honoring Stratton.
Eleven hundred and seventy-seven crew members died in the Pearl Harbor bombing and sinking of the Arizona. Stratton suffered burns across more than 60% of his body, like most of the 355 of the Arizona’s surviving crew.
“It’s important to have the youth with us as we celebrate, 78 years ago, to have that connection to maybe four generations. ... That’s incredible,” Lally said.
Several local heroes from the Japanese attack, which claimed more than 2,400 American lives, were recognized Friday, including Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel T. Griffin, a Colorado Springs resident who is believed to be the first American casualty of World War II.
Leaders also paid homage to Lt. Jim Downing, who was ashore when the Japanese planes struck the unprepared American Pacific Fleet.
After making his way to the stricken USS West Virginia, Downing sprayed seawater on ammunition stored on the deck to prevent more explosions.
Downing, who was the second-oldest survivor of the attacks, died last year at 104 years old.
Several active military members attended the ceremony, hosted by the Colorado Springs chapter of the Navy League, including Navy Capt. Arlene Gray, who said the day of remembrance was vital to pay respect to those who paid “the ultimate sacrifice.”
“I think it marks a time to realize how much freedom costs,” said Gray, who is stationed in Colorado Springs. “Freedom is not free.”