Presented by U.S. Bank
On December 7, 2016 we remembered the 75th Anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On dates such as this I search for books written by people who were there or have the credentials of a historian. I found “All the Gallant Men: An American Sailors First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor” by Donald Stratton with Ken Gire. The book was published on November 22, 2016 by William Morrow.
Stratton was a seaman first-class on board the USS Arizona on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. After a year-long recovery from wounds suffered in the attack on Pearl Harbor, he reenlisted and served on the destroyer USS Stack during the Okinawa invasion as well as other battles. He is one of the 335 members of the crew who survived the horror of that day. Today, only five remain. Of the eight battleships in Pearl Harbor that morning, four were sunk and four were badly damaged. Eventually, all but three of the ships were repaired. The USS Arizona (too badly damaged to be salvaged), the USS Oklahoma (raised but considered too old to be worth repairing), and the USS Utah (also considered obsolete).
In the case of the Arizona, a bomb detonated in a powder magazine and the battleship exploded violently and sank with the loss of 1,177 officers and crewmen. The ship was irreparably damaged by the force of the magazine explosion although the Navy removed parts of the ship for reuse. The wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, was dedicated on 30 May 1962 to all those who died during the attack, straddles the ship’s hull.
“What happened on December 7, 1941, if it didn’t kill us, changed us forever,” wrote Stratton. “President Roosevelt was right to call it ‘a date that will live in infamy.’ But for my fellow survivors and me, it also is alive in memory, like shrapnel left embedded in our brains because the surgeon thought it too dangerous to operate. These memories lie within me, forever still and silent, like the men entombed in the Arizona.”
Donald Stratton is 95 years old and realizes that he cannot take the years ahead for granted. “Not one,” he emphasized. More than 65 percent of his body was burned in the explosion that sank the Arizona. He calls his body a patchwork of scars and skin grafts and adds that much of the feeling has come back, But not all.
What makes this book so special and similar to all these stories about people in our military is that sooner or later in the telling of their story they write or talk about the people they served with. Stratton’s eloquence is that of a man of letters.
“It’s been said that when an old man dies, it is like a library burning down,” he wrote. “Having survived a fire that took so much from me, I have the obligation to save what memories I have from the flames that will one day come and claim what is left of me.”
Most of the memories are those of Donald Stratton. He fully understands that a day will come when he can no longer speak. He ruminates about what will become of his memories, but he makes it very clear that he does not want the story to be exclusively his.
“We were not extraordinary men, those of us who fought on that infamous day in December 75 years ago,” he said.
Stratton describes in poetic terms how that day changed his life. He states truthfully that many of the men joined because of the Depression not because of any love for country, but because they needed a job. Pearl Harbor changed that. A surge of patriotism swept the country and everyone threw themselves into the war.
Love for country welled up inside seemingly ever American, coming out in the songs that were being sung, the movies produced, and in the newspaper articles that were being written.
“We are ordinary men,” said Stratton. “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.”
He refers to his shipmates in terms of a true brotherhood that came from different ethnic backgrounds with accents that betrayed them.
There was Jastremski from Michigan, O’Bryan from Massachusetts, Shroeder from New Jersey, Giobenazzo from Illinois, Riggins from California and a Nelson from Arkansas. There were Smiths from everywhere, and a Stratton from Nebraska.
The heroism exhibited on that day will be remembered as long as there are survivors and people like Donald Stratton to tell their story. I agree with him that when a man dies it is like a library burning down.
Buy the book and give it to a young person in your family. Give them the means to understand why so many have sacrificed for love of country. The men and women who wear the uniform today are no different. The only difference is they want to serve their country in war and peace.
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