Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton
USS Arizona Survivor
December 7, 1941
I conducted this interview with Donald Stratton just over a year ago. Parts of the interview appeared in last year's December issue of World War II magazine. The publication had exclusive rights to the article for one year, then I could re-use it.
This interview is indicitive of the ones I conduct with veterans. I've recorded the recollections of around 48 veterans to date. This was by far the most emotional. Mr. Stratton became overwhelmed with emotion at several points during our phone conversation. To be honest, there were a few parts in this interview where I almost started crying...to hear him relate the story firsthand and hear the raw emotion in his voice as he told his story...well...what can I say...
Anyhow, please read the story of an American hero who survived one of the most historical events in American history and on December 7th, 2007, please take a moment and say a prayer for all those who didn't.
The above image shows the port anti-aircraft director (circled in red). This structure was Donald Stratton's battle station.
Donald Stratton enlisted in the Navy in October 1940 to escape the boredom of small-town Nebraska. The 18 year old had no idea that in just over one year’s time he would be part of one of the most historic and dramatic events in both American and U.S. Naval history.
Stationed aboard the mighty USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor the morning of December 7, 1941, Donald Stratton participated in and survived a life and death experience that had far reaching implications for both him and the nation he was serving.
DAVID: Where and when were you born?
Donald Stratton: I was born in the little town of Inavale, Nebraska. I went through the school system in Red Cloud…about seven miles east of there.
DAVID: What did your parents do for a living?
Donald Stratton: [My parents] were on the farm…a wheat farm, corn and smaller grains. In the thirties we had the bad times. They moved to town and in later years my father owned a tavern.
DAVID: What was it like growing up during the Great Depression?
Donald Stratton: I don’t remember ever going hungry. We never did seem to have very much, but we were pretty happy. Things just got so bad [dad] didn’t even have the money to buy the seed to plant anything. And then the dust storms.
DAVID: Do you remember the dust storms?
Donald Stratton: Oh yes. We had to wet cloths to put over our face, nose and mouth to breathe. It was terrible.
DAVID: When did you enlist in the Navy and why did you choose the Navy?
Donald Stratton: There was nothing much to do in the 1940’s. There wasn’t much going on. People were…strapped for money. There were no jobs. I graduated from high school in 1940. The Naval recruiter was at the post office. I went down and talked with him. He came back later and finally I decided I’d just go in the Navy.
DAVID: Where did you receive your basic training what was it like?
Donald Stratton: Great Lakes. I got to know quite a few people. The training was pretty tough but it wasn’t bad. The worst part is I enlisted in September/October and the wintertime up there isn’t too good.
DAVID: You adjusted okay to military life?
Donald Stratton: Oh yes, I kind of enjoyed it. I think it probably made me a better person: learning to get along with other people…to obey orders. When you’re 17 or 18 a lot of people are kind of wise guys.
DAVID: After basic training you were assigned to the USS Arizona. How did you feel being assigned to a battleship?
Donald Stratton: After Boot Camp I was home for about a week. Then back to Great Lakes and they told us the Arizona. I don’t remember just exactly but I think there was about 50 or 60 men. I really didn’t have a preference and they really didn’t give you a chance for a preference.
DAVID: The Arizona was receiving an upgrade at Bremerton, Washington. What was it like for you as a young kid travelling across the United States by train?
Donald Stratton: It was quite an experience. We went across the northern United States. We had some recruits from back east…on the train. They were at the windows – they had never seen a jackrabbit before. We were really interested in watching them. We were watching them and they were watching the animals alongside the railroad.
DAVID: What happened when you arrived at the train station in Bremerton?
Donald Stratton: We went right out to the Arizona. They brought us aboard and assigned us to different divisions.
DAVID: Do you recall of the first time you saw the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: They were working on it at dockside. There were so many hoses…saltwater hoses, welding cables, everything all over the decks – we were standing fire watch pretty near every night when the welders were working on board. You would have thought, “Oh boy, this [isn’t] really what I anticipated.” But the Chaplain came around and said “This isn’t always the way it is, and, my friend,” he [said], “when we get out to sea, you’ll notice a difference quite a bit.” And sure enough, we did. After a few days in the shipyard they put her in dry-dock. We had to go over the sides and scrub it down and paint it and to an old flatlander like me, when you see a battleship out of the water that’s like 35-thousand ton, it’s quite an experience.
DAVID: Were you awestruck?
Donald Stratton: I would certainly say so.
DAVID: What division were you assigned to?
Donald Stratton: The Sixth Division. That was a boat deck division on the port side. In the Navy the starboard side is all odd numbers and the port side is all even numbered.
DAVID: What were the responsibilities of your division?
Donald Stratton: Scraping and cleaning some of the boats. We had to…holystone the decks and keep everything ship-shape. We had two 50-foot motorboats, two 40-foot launches, whaleboats, the Captain’s gig and the Admiral’s barge…on the boat deck. That was a deck… behind the smokestack. I was assigned to clean up the foremast. The stack was right there and when they blew tubes the smoke would gather on the paint on the yardarms and the foremast and we’d have to scrub it down.
DAVID: Do you recall when the Arizona set sail for Pearl harbour?
Donald Stratton: Seemed like it was February or March 1941.
DAVID: Were you excited to be going to Hawaii?
Donald Stratton: Sure, it was an experience. I’d never been there before. A lot of people had never been there and it was just something you could talk about.
DAVID: Did you practise any drills on the way over?
Donald Stratton: Always. Practise, practise, practise. They had a…5-inch 25 [calibre] anti-aircraft gun. We practised loading and firing. It actually didn’t fire. Those shells were all fixed ammunition and they weighed probably 70 or 80 pounds. The loader had to load them into the breech and then the rammer had to ram them home.
DAVID: What were you specifically trained on?
Donald Stratton: I was a sight setter in the director on the foremast. That was my battle station.
DAVID: How long did it take to get to Pearl Harbor?
Donald Stratton: I think it took 5 days.
DAVID: Were you topside when the Arizona entered Pearl Harbor?
Donald Stratton: I think about everybody was.
DAVID: What were your impressions of the harbour and the base?
Donald Stratton: Very nice and beautiful. You’d just think, “I bet the people back home wouldn’t believe this.”
DAVID: So the prairie boy was impressed?
Donald Stratton: Oh yes. Everybody was I think.
DAVID: Did you get off the Arizona very much for Liberty?
Donald Stratton: Quite a bit. They had two separate divisions – one night they had duty and the next night you had duty. We would just go into the city around the bars and the YMCA.
DAVID: Did you ever think the United States would enter the war?
Donald Stratton: I don’t think anyone really thought about it. I think the first inkling we got was when we went on manoeuvres for a couple of months or so and they only allowed us three gallons of water every day. We figured something must be up because they were…seeing what would happen if they did ration the water.
DAVID: How did you feel about being in the Navy up to this point time?
Donald Stratton: After we got out of dry-dock and out to sea…why everything was pretty nice. I kind of enjoyed it. Food was good. I made a lot of new friends. That’s the worst part of it.
DAVID: December 7, 1941. You were aboard the Arizona. What time did you go for breakfast and what uniform were you wearing?
Donald Stratton: Around seven o’clock. We were wearing shorts and t-shirts at that time. That was the uniform of the day, outside of the Marines and the boat crews.
DAVID: Where on the ship was your mess located?
Donald Stratton: We were in what they called casemates, where the five-inch broadside guns were. That was our sleeping quarters. There were four of them on the port side. That was where we slept and ate.
DAVID: Did you eat breakfast with the same group of men all the time?
Donald Stratton: Yes. They had one mess cook and two tables. He would go to the galley and bring the chow back to the tables.
DAVID: Tell me about some of the sailors you hung out with.
Donald Stratton: They were just different people from all walks of life. Some southern boys, some Texas boys, [some from] back…east. I was going to go through the survivor book and the casualty book and check all the names of the people I recognize, but I just can’t make myself do that. A lot of good friends.
DAVID: After breakfast you went to sickbay to visit your friend Harl Nelson?
Donald Stratton: Yes. I picked-up some of the oranges that some of the other sailors left on the table. I was going to take them down to sickbay to him.
DAVID: Tell me about Harl.
Donald Stratton: He was just another sailor in the Sixth Division. [He] and I were…on the incinerator. Everyone had a three-month deal to do. If you get mess cooking you have to be mess cook for three months, or incinerator for three months, or whatever. We burned…all of the garbage.
DAVID: What happened on your way to the sick bay?
Donald Stratton: I stepped out of the casemate onto the bow of the ship and some sailors…were yelling and hollering and pointing towards Ford Island. I went up there to see what all of the commotion was about and we’d seen these planes. I saw either the dive tower or the water tower on Ford Island go over. We’d see the bombs bursting and then they kind of peeled off and we could see the rising sun and right away everybody seemed to know it was the Japanese.
DAVID: How did you feel when you saw that rising sun insignia on those planes?
Donald Stratton: Well, just, you know, what the hell is going on here? [The attack was] kind of hard to understand and a surprise attack at that. They’ll never make me believe it wasn’t planned as a surprise attack and they try to say that it was not.
DAVID: Was there any initial confusion as to what was going on?
Donald Stratton: Not really. I just made an about face and started for my battle station, which was one deck above the bridge.
DAVID: You started for your battle station before hearing the General Quarters alarm?
Donald Stratton: Yes. General Quarters sounded after I got to my battle station.
DAVID: How many times was that alarm repeated?
Donald Stratton: Generally it’s just one or two times, but that day it seemed like it just kept going.
DAVID: Your battle station was the port anti-aircraft director?
Donald Stratton: Right.
DAVID: What route did you take to get to your battle station?
Donald Stratton: You had to go up the first ladder to the radio shack, the next ladder up to the signal bridge, the next ladder up to the bridge, the next ladder up to the sky control platform.
DAVID: Can you describe the scene as you made your way to the battle station?
Donald Stratton: Everyone was going…it seemed like everybody kind of new. They announced battle stations and sounded General Quarters and everybody was all moving to get to their position.
DAVID: Can you please describe the job of a sight setter?
Donald Stratton: You have a gunnery officer up there. You have a port on top of the director where you can look out…you…get a visual picture…and try to set the range and…flight path. [I’d] crank whatever they’d say or determine onto this gauge I [had] in front of me and it sends [the coordinates] automatically to the gun down below. They shift the gun into automatic and the gun goes the same as the director.
DAVID: Basically then a sight setter, literally sets the…
Donald Stratton: Range and target.
DAVID: Was the director an enclosed structure?
Donald Stratton: Yes.
DAVID: How many were part of your group?
Donald Stratton: There was a starboard director on the other side with the same amount of men. It took about 8 or 9 men to man the inside of the director and then they had all kinds…of sailors with binoculars sighting planes coming in. The big gun director was on the same level for the 14-inch guns. There were probably at least 50 men for [the] port [and] starboard [director including] the observers and plotters.
DAVID: How many guns was your group responsible for?
Donald Stratton: Four anti-aircraft guns. They were 5-inch 25 [calibre], fixed ammunition.
DAVID: What happened when you arrived at your battle station?
Donald Stratton: I didn’t have time much time to think….we were firing…we had 50 rounds of ammunition behind each gun. They had to break some of the locks to get [the ammunition] out of the ready boxes and start firing, but we were firing at the planes…more or less at the high altitude bombers. We knew that the torpedo bombers and the dive-bombers would be more [or] less [covered] by the .50 calibre machine guns. We worried about the high altitude bombers, though we couldn’t reach them. Our bursts were going off [before] they ever reached their altitude.
DAVID: The Arizona was hit by an armor-piercing bomb at approximately 8:10 that ignited the forward magazine. What do you recall of the resulting explosion?
Donald Stratton: We were hit once before, aft on top of No. 3 turret and it bounced over the side. One went through the afterdeck and didn’t explode. Then the one hit up above on the starboard side, it was…big. It shook the ship like an earthquake. Then all at once…a big explosion, which just raised the ship pretty near clear up out of the water and then back down. Then a ball of flame went about 500 to 600 feet in the air and just engulfed the whole foremast up there where we were at and the whole bow of the ship. I think there’s one gentleman…down in Chula Vista. He was the Fire Controlman in our director. He might be gone by now and if that’s true, I’m the only one that survived [in the director] who is still alive.
DAVID: Were you knocked off your feet by the explosion?
Donald Stratton: It just rattled us around in there like we were inside of a tube or something. Then the fire…and trying to get out of the…ducking down behind some of the equipment trying to keep away from the blaze. Horrible day.
DAVID: Were there flames inside the director?
Donald Stratton: Oh yah. That fireball went 600 feet in the air. That ship burned for 3½ days.
DAVID: What were your injuries?
Donald Stratton: I was burned over between I guess 60 to 70% of my body. With the shorts and the t-shirt, why both my legs were burnt from my thighs clear to my ankles, and my back, my t-shirt caught on fire, and both my arms, my left side pretty bad, and my face, and my hair was all burnt off, and part of my ear is gone.
DAVID: Were you blinded by the explosion or dazed by the concussion?
Donald Stratton: I am sure…at that time you’re in self-preservation mode. You don’t realize any of that stuff. Right now I have glaucoma and I’m sure it was attributed to the fire. We had to see what we were doing and where we were going and I’m sure it hurt my eyes.
DAVID: What were some of the other injuries men inside the director suffered?
Donald Stratton: Something hit one of the gentlemen around the neck and shoulders and the head and one gentleman got hit in the leg with a machine gun bullet, but that’s about all I can…outside of the burns…everybody was burnt.
DAVID: Did any of the men that were on the outside platform survive?
Donald Stratton: I don’t recall any of the people that were the spotters [surviving].
DAVID: Did you realize right away the seriousness of your injuries?
Donald Stratton: Oh yah, you know. Terrible pain. You know the skin on my arms was just…when we got ready to leave the ship it was just in the way. We just grabbed it like a big long sock and pulled it off and threw it down.
DAVID: Did you or anyone else try to escape the fire inside the director by going outside onto the platform?
Donald Stratton: Well, no we…kind of stayed in there, kind of for protection a little bit. A couple of the people in the director jumped out and I never did see them again.
DAVID: Could you could see the fire raging outside the director?
Donald Stratton: You couldn’t help but see it. It was everywhere.
DAVID: How long was it before you went outside the director and onto the platform?
Donald Stratton: When the fire kind of squelched down a little bit, we had a little sea breeze…a little breeze and that [blew] the smoke away. We got out on the platform. All the deck…everything was red hot…the inside of the charthouse…and the ready boxes…all red-hot. We couldn’t lay down, or sit down.
DAVID: Did you take note of what was happening on the decks below?
Donald Stratton: I’m not going to say nothing. That was so terrible I don’t even want to say anything about it.
DAVID: A sailor named Joe George on the USS Vestal threw your group a heaving line. Were you able to get his attention right away?
Donald Stratton: Oh yah. The Vestal…was tied up alongside…we got his attention. He threw us a heaving line. He attached another heavier line on it and we pulled it across and tied it off on the Arizona. Then we went hand over hand across the line. We were all burned to hell.
DAVID: Did you have any contact with him after the war?
Donald Stratton: No, I didn’t, but I mentioned to somebody maybe we [should] get a hold of him. Somebody contacted the Vestal and they said, “He’s still alive.” They were going to have him come to one of our reunions, but before they could get an invitation to him, he passed away.
DAVID: You pulled a heavier rope across and tied it off. How many men went across that line to the USS Vestal?
Donald Stratton: I think there was only six of us.
DAVID: What number were you?
Donald Stratton: I was either third or fourth. Two of the gentlemen that went across the line…both passed away that night.
DAVID: With your burns, was it hard for you to get across that line?
Donald Stratton: Well, you know, you’re…40 feet in the air…and you’re about…probably about 60, 70 feet across. Hand over hand…hanging down…hand over hand. I had to have a lot of help from up above, the good Lord. It was…it was quite a feat, especially when your hands are raw.
DAVID: Was the water below you on fire?
Donald Stratton: Yes.
DAVID: And there were clouds of billowing smoke?
Donald Stratton: Yes.
DAVID: Do you remember how long it took the group to get across?
Donald Stratton: No. I would have no idea at all. One at a time. The Vestal was lower than we were as a ship…so we were going kind of downhill a little bit. But you have to realize that the Arizona sank to the bottom too, which was about 18 feet. That brought [us] down…a little bit to the level, but still going downhill a little bit. When you get to the middle of a line going across like that with the weight you start going back uphill again. The last 10 or 15 or 20 feet was the hardest.
DAVID: What happened when you made it aboard the Vestal?
Donald Stratton: Well, nothing. We just kind of all huddled…together for a little while. They were trying to figure out how to get us off there ashore to the hospital. We were there for quite a little bit. Finally a shore boat came alongside. They loaded us on the shore boat and took us in to the pier.
DAVID: Was that before the Vestal cut her mooring lines and got away from the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: Yes.
DAVID: What happened when the shore boat arrived at the pier?
Donald Stratton: We had to get up on the dock, which was kind of a chore because the tide was down some. We reached up and grabbed with our hands…the way we were…to get ashore. Then they put us in an open-air truck and took us to the hospital, the Naval hospital there on the island.
DAVID: Tell me about that truck ride to the hospital. How long did it take you to get there?
Donald Stratton: I have no idea, but [it] seemed like forever. It sure felt good with that breeze blowing on those burns.
DAVID: Did you ever lose consciousness?
Donald Stratton: Not that I know of.
DAVID: Do you recall the scene at the hospital?
Donald Stratton: It was kind of chaotic, but…they were…pretty well organized. They were doing a good job when they got us. They wanted to put us on a stretcher and carry us in. I sat on the edge of the stretcher. There was a lot of damage to a lot of people, a lot of things going on.
DAVID: What was your initial diagnosis and what type of treatment did you receive?
Donald Stratton: The best treatment they could do for burns…a lot of sulpha drugs. They gave us morphine. Our faces were burned, our bodies were burnt, they didn’t know who got a shot of morphine and who didn’t get a shot or when. Some nurse figured out to use lipstick, so they’d mark…put an “x” on your…put a time on you when you had a shot. They had so many people to keep track of.
DAVID: Did you get marked with lipstick?
Donald Stratton: Oh yah, sure.
DAVID: How did the doctors decide to send you to the mainland?
Donald Stratton: They came in to the room and said, “Some of you people are going to go to the States.” I said, “I’ll go.” They said, “No we don’t think you can…you’re in good enough shape to make it. You probably wouldn’t survive the trip.” I said, “Oh yah, I can make that easy.” They said, “Well, if you can stand up while we change the linen, we’ll think about it.” So, I stood up while they changed the linen. I didn’t get up for a long time after that. They sent me back to the States.
DAVID: How hard was it for you to stand up?
Donald Stratton: Just sheer willpower I guess.
DAVID: When did you arrive on the mainland?
Donald Stratton: We got to the United States on Christmas Day. We came back on the SS Scott.
DAVID: You were taken to the Mare Island Naval Hospital. How did you feel when you arrived back in the States?
Donald Stratton: Very glad to get back to the States…and everybody else was glad too. We had I think peas and other stuff for Christmas dinner.
DAVID: What type of treatment did you receive for your burns?
Donald Stratton: A lot of antibiotics. After a while they decided…maybe…saltwater baths would help. They put double sheets under us and they’d take us into the bathroom. They would get four corpsmen, one on each corner of the sheets. They would pick us up and set us down in this tub of saltwater. That seemed to help the most. The first time was kind of, a little rough, but after two or three, after a couple of times why you’d get to kind of look forward to it. That did the job. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t feed myself. I couldn’t do anything. They had a canopy over us with light bulbs in it to keep us warm. All the burns were open to the air.
DAVID: How many men were in that burn unit? Were they all from the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: I don’t know how many beds…probably 20. They were all from different places.
DAVID: Did they treat you any differently knowing you had come off the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: No, I was just another burn patient.
DAVID: You were eventually transferred to Corona California for convalescence?
Donald Stratton: Yes. After about nine months in Mare Island they transferred us to Corona where the Navy had taken over…a hotel. They had a golf course and a swimming pool and mineral baths. It was very enjoyable.
DAVID: How long was it before you could stand up and walk on your own?
Donald Stratton: I really don’t have any idea of that. You know, when I could…stand up on the scales I weighed 92 pounds.
DAVID: How much did you weigh before the incident on the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: Probably 165 or 170.
DAVID: Were any of your family able to visit you while you were at Mare Island or Corona?
Donald Stratton: No. The fact is I didn’t want them to come out.
DAVID: Did any of the nurses write letters to your parents on your behalf?
Donald Stratton: Well yah, they wrote. [My parents] finally got notice that I was…they first got a notice that I was lost, but then they got a notice that…after [the Navy] got everything squared away, that I was actually in the hospital.
DAVID: Did you dictate letters to the nurses?
Donald Stratton: Yes…a few of them. I’d have them send a little note.
DAVID: When did you receive your medical discharge?
Donald Stratton: September 1942.
DAVID: What was your physical condition like when you returned home?
Donald Stratton: Well, I wasn’t very good. That is was why I was medically discharged. My whole left side was kind of disabled. My left arm was in pretty bad shape and my left leg. After being back there for a while…a little over a year or so…everything got in pretty good shape and got very usable…so I decided to go back in the Navy again.
DAVID: Did your burns disfigure your face at all?
Donald Stratton: Yes. Part of one ear is gone and my nose has got a big scar and my lip. I don’t notice it much.
DAVID: How did your parents react?
Donald Stratton: They were glad I was home. They were glad that everything turned out all right.
DAVID: Did you willingly re-enlist or were you drafted?
Donald Stratton: I had to go through the draft board, but I enlisted. The only way I could get in was through the draft. I had a couple of friends on the draft board that signed me up and sent me to Omaha.
DAVID: Why did you want to get back into the Navy?
Donald Stratton: There was just not a lot going on [in Red Cloud]…and you know, it wasn’t any different from 1940 when I graduated…as far as jobs [were] concerned. Maybe a little revenge you know.
DAVID: This time you attended Boot Camp in Idaho?
Donald Stratton: Yes. They finally got me permission…from the Navy and I went back in. I got my same service number. I went to Boot Camp in January and February in 1944 in winter again.
DAVID: You could have stayed at Boot Camp as a Recruit Chief Petty Officer?
Donald Stratton: I placed 120 men through Boot Camp. They wanted me to stay but…I wanted to go back to sea.
DAVID: Did you want to get onto another battleship?
Donald Stratton: It really didn’t matter. They sent me to Treasure Island and the request came from the USS Stack (DD-406) for Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class. I was one of them.
DAVID: The Stack made a call at Pearl Harbor before sailing to the South Pacific. What was it like for you to see what now remained of the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: Well, it was just one of those things. I welled up a little bit…even now when I think about it. But, I’m still here and those thousand men are still there. It’s quite a memory. A sad memory.
DAVID: How did you feel about going to the South Pacific and into a battle zone?
Donald Stratton: I don’t know that I thought a lot about it. It’s just one of those things you do when you’re in the Navy, the Army, the Marines. I participated in quite a few of the landings: in New Guinea…both the invasions of the Philippines, Okinawa. We went in with the mine-sweeps three days ahead of the invasion force at Leyte Gulf and Luzon.
DAVID: What gun were you assigned to on the Stack?
Donald Stratton: I was in the number two handling room actually. You get the ammunition from below and get it up to the gun. That was a five-inch 38 [calibre].
DAVID: Does anything stand out in your mind regarding your time on the Stack?
Donald Stratton: [We had] submarine contact several times. General quarters sounded one night. I jumped out of my bunk…up to topside and at about that time [there was] a big flash right in front of my face and I thought, oh man, we’re hit again. I [found] out it was an impulse charge that had sent a…depth charge over the side.
DAVID: It was almost like a flashback for you?
Donald Stratton: Yes. That was kind of spooky.
DAVID: In Okinawa your ship was assigned anti-aircraft and anti-sub duties. What do you recall of those duties?
Donald Stratton: We were on picket patrol between Okinawa and Japan for quite a number of days. [We] were losing…quite a few destroyers. We had radar. We’d [make] contact [with] the [Japanese] planes coming in and contact [our guys]…down in Luzon and tell them they were on their way. We survived that. They got four or five destroyers one night there I remember.
DAVID: In October 1945 you were transferred to electric-hydraulic school?
Donald Stratton: Yes, in San Diego.
DAVID: Did you put in a request for that?
Donald Stratton: No, that just went along with gunnery training. It was just a deal Gunner’s Mates had to go through.
DAVID: You eventually attained the rank of Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class?
Donald Stratton: Yes. When you finish the school…you automatically move up one rank.
DAVID: You were discharged on December 4th, 1945?
Donald Stratton: Yes, in St. Louis, Missouri.
DAVID: What was that like for you?
Donald Stratton: It was just…one of those days. Not much more to do. The war was over, let’s get out of this United States Navy and do something else. I was kind of happy at that time.
DAVID: What did you do after you were discharged?
Donald Stratton: I helped my father in a tavern…then I got a job on a beer truck. I decided to go to California. I was an Able Bodied Seaman onboard the drilling rigs…barges at that time with derricks on them. They were drilling for oil in the ocean. After that I went to work for the deep-sea divers.
DAVID: How do you feel towards the Japanese today?
Donald Stratton: I have no animosity against the Japanese people…but when we go to these reunions and there’s some of the Japanese there that were pilots that were doing the bombing…they say get up there and shake hands with them. I don’t do that. I never will do that. You have to understand my position. There’s a thousand men down on that ship that I was on and I’m sure they wouldn’t do that and I’m sure they wouldn’t want me to do it.
DAVID: How many times have you been back to the USS Arizona Memorial?
Donald Stratton: Quite a few. They have me go over every once in a while and they have me sign an action figure that depicts me. It has my story on the side and the story of Pearl Harbor on the back. They sell them at the museum.
DAVID: How do you feel about that?
Donald Stratton: It’s quite an honor. I do it because I want…the people in the United States to not forget about Pearl Harbor. I do it for my shipmates on board the ship. We’ve got to keep this in front of the people. Why do we…learn about the War of 1812…when Pearl Harbor is part of our recent history? They don’t teach it, or tell about it or discuss it. You hardly ever see anything about it in school.
DAVID: Will you be buried aboard the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: No. My wife and I had a boy and a girl, and a boy and a girl and we lost both girls. They’re buried in Nebraska and we’re both going to be buried back there.
DAVID: Has there ever been a day that you haven’t thought about the Arizona?
Donald Stratton: No, not really. I think about it quite often. I’m very fortunate to be here. I just can’t help but think people should be more aware of what happened that day and how many lives were taken. How many of those sailors and Marines on board that ship right now don’t even know what happened to them, or why it happened, or who it was? It seems like an awful, awful waste of life for something that people are going to forget about. We have so many people in this…United States, that don’t appreciate their liberty and they wouldn’t fight for it.
DAVID: What do you want future generations to remember about the attack?
Donald Stratton: Just be constantly aware of what’s happening around you and be sure that it doesn’t happen again. God Bless America.