WWII USS Arizona Survivor

Donald Stratton

Seaman, First Class, US Navy

Donald was born July 14, 1922, in Inavale, Nebraska. He enlisted in the US Navy in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940 after gradating high school. After completing basic training at the Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois, he reported for duty on the USS Arizona at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on December 9, 1940. He was assigned to the 6th Division, battle station port AA director on the foremast.



donstrattonOn December 7th, he went for breakfast around 7 a.m. Most of the crew were wearing shorts and t-shirts—the uniform of the day. After breakfast, Donald headed for sick-bay to visit his friend, Hard Nelson. He had just stepped out of the mess area near the casemate on the bow of the ship when he heard sailors yelling and hollering. Looking out to Ford Island, he could see several types of planes. As they circled, Donald could see the Rising Sun insignia on the wings as bombs exploded around him. He remembers asking himself, “What the hell is going on?”



Donald headed for his battle station—one deck above the bridge—to the Sky Control Platform. He and his fellow sailors started firing at the high-altitude bombers, but their shells were bursting before they reached the bombers altitude.



Around 8 a.m., the USS Arizona was hit by the first bomb near No. 3 turret, bouncing over the side. The second bomb went through the afterdeck but didn’t explode. The third bomb sliced through the starboard side, igniting over 1,000,000 pounds of ammunition and fuel. The USS Arizona was lifted nearly completely out of the water, followed by a fireball that rose to more than 500 feet in the air. Donald and his crewmates attempted to shield themselves within the director.



The sailors attempted to shield themselves from the raging inferno as Donald watched two of his shipmates jumped overboard—never to be seen again. The Hawaiian Trade winds started to blow the smoke away, leaving a red-hot Arizona deck. Donald was burned from his ankles to the top of his head—totaling about 70% of his body. His hair was gone, and part of his ear was missing.



The USS Vestal was moored alongside of the Arizona, and the caught the attention of a sailor named Joe George, who threw a heaving line across to the men. Donald and the other men attached a heavier line, and it was pulled across to the Vestal. Just before the men crossed the line, Donald removed the burnt skin from his arms, pulling it off like a sock. The men crossed the line, about 70 feet from one deck to the other and 40 feet in the air. The water was on fire as the six sailors crossed. Two men died from their wounds as they waited for rescue on the Vestal.



Donald spent three weeks in the hospital before he travelled to the states. Doctors and nurses didn’t believe he would survive the trip back, so to prove he was strong enough, he stood next to his bed while nurses changed his sheets. He didn’t move for a while after that. He arrived in the states on Christmas day 1941—spending 9 months at the Mare Island hospital. During the attack, Donald weighed 170 pounds and after his time in the hospital, he weighed just 92. Donald refused to have his left arm amputated, determined to regain full use of it.



After a year he regained almost full use of his left side and was medically discharged in September 1944. With WWII still happening in the Pacific, Donald re-enlisted in the Navy. They refused his enlistment at first, citing his extensive medical history. Eventually, the Navy relented, and allowed him to return—only if he went through boot camp a second time.



Donald was assigned to the USS Stack and participated in the invasion landings at New Guinea, Hallamahara, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa.