Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Life Forged in the Heat of Battle

All The Gallant Men – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor- Donald Stratton with Ken Gire (William Morrow)

With the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor upon us; as I read the story of Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton’s miraculous tale of survival and heroism and later his comeback to fight another day, I couldn’t help but be struck by the uncommon valor that is this fin man’s hallmark.

Tom Brokaw labeled them the “greatest generation” and no better evidence exists than by comparing 19 year old Stratton to today’s perfect snowflake 19 year olds who need safe rooms, crying towels and Playdoh because Donald Trump won the election. It was at the ripe old age of 19 that Stratton raced to man his battle station on the U. S. S. Arizona amid a hail of machine gun fire and dropping bombs.

In All the Gallant Men – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor, Stratton and co-author Ken Gire chillingly describe the chaos that was the Arizona on that infamous day, as a 1760 pound armor-piercing bomb hit the ship, detonating a million pounds of munitions and igniting 180,000 gallons of aviation fuel that was onboard the craft. So powerful was the explosion that the massive warship was actually lifted out of the water, buckling the deck in an inferno of death and destruction.

Stratton and his gunnery team suffered horrific injuries and burns, yet somehow managed to muster the strength to traverse a rope stretched over forty five seemingly endless feet over a burning slick of oil to the relative safety of the U.S.S. Vestal. That day Stratton counted himself among 334 survivors of the Arizona, and at this writing he is 1 of 5 survivors alive today.

That in and of itself would have been an amazing story, but Stratton was just getting started. Severely burned over 2/3 of his body, Stratton spent an arduous year recovering from those injuries. His recovery included refusing a surgeon’s advice to have his legs amputated and learning to walk again. If that wasn’t enough, following a medical discharge, Stratton continued his recovery with the goal of reenlisting and reentering the fight.

The Navy, unsure of his ability and fitness for battle, made Stratton go through basic training a second time and in the summer of 1944 he cruised through the challenge and was assigned to the U.S.S. Stark. Who among us ordinary people could say they would climb aboard another ship, let alone return to battle following what Stratton endured?

Stratton and the Stark would count themselves among some of the war in the Pacific’s most crucial battles including that War’s final battle on Okinawa. Stratton’s is a truly amazing story and one that should be required reading for millennial in need of a firm grip on reality.

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