“We are profoundly sad to say that last night, February 15, USS Arizona Survivor Donald Stratton passed away peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his wife of nearly 70 years, Velma, and his son Randy,” the Pearl Harbor National Memorial shared in a tweet on Sunday.
According to the memorial, the Nebraska native joined the Navy in 1940. Stratton’s first ship was the USS Arizona, and he suffered burns to over 70% of his body during the 1941 attacks that threw the United States into WWII.
“During the attack on December 7th 1941, he was with 5 others in the burning forward mast and was saved when a sailor from the USS Vestal threw them a line,” the memorial said. “He crawled hand over hand, high above the water to safety, being burned over 70% of his body.”
We are profoundly sad to say that last night, February 15, USS Arizona Survivor Donald Stratton passed away peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his wife of nearly 70 years, Velma, and his son Randy. pic.twitter.com/amRuUmAN48— PearlHarborNPS (@PearlHarborNPS) February 16, 2020
After surviving the bombings, he was medically discharged in September 1942 but was determined to serve his country.
“Stratton reenlisted and completed boot camp in January 1944. He served out the war and was discharged in December 1946 at the rank of Gunners Mate Second Class (GM2c),” the National Memorial added.
The former USS Arizona crew member recalled the harrowing attack in an interview for The National WWII Museum in 2011, describing the moment when a bomb hit the USS Arizona.
“We got caught in that ball of fire with no place to go,” he said.
Stratton then recalled seeing Chief Petty Officer Joe George, who threw him and the others trying to escape a lifeline, helping to save their lives. George died in 1996, but was honored with a posthumous Bronze Star Medal in 2017 after Stratton petitioned to have him recognized.
“I was aboard the USS Arizona on the morning of December 7, 1941. The courage I saw in our men was astonishing,” Stratton wrote in his 2016 book, All the Gallant Men, according to Fox News.
“Acts of individual heroism could be witnessed everywhere you looked,” he continued, later adding, “We were not extraordinary men, those of us who fought on that infamous date in December seventy-five years ago… We were ordinary men. What was extraordinary was the country we loved. We loved who she was, what she stood for. We loved her for what she meant to us, and for what she had given to us, even in those meager times.”
The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial was flown at half-staff in honor of Stratton’s life and service, the National Memorial said.