Donald Stratton is from Red Cloud, Nebraska. His family was farmers early on in their lives. Stratton had one sister older than him and two brothers younger than him. His little brother joined the service and was in the Marine Corps in Korea. His other brother joined the Navy and was later a paratrooper and was wounded in Korea. Stratton joined the Navy for the adventure. The idea of going to sea intrigued him. When he graduated from high school he met with a Navy recruiter and joined the Navy. They had just come out of the dust bowl. Stratton remembers his parents arguing because they did not know where their next meal was coming from but they got by alright. Stratton could not turn down the 21 dollars that the Navy was going to offer him. He went through basic training at the Great Lakes base. After boot camp everyone was divided up to go to different ships. Stratton was assigned to the USS Arizona (BB-39). He caught a train to Washington where the Arizona was docked. The Arizona was put into dry dock in Washington [Annotator's Note: Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington] for repairs. Stratton scraped barnacles off of the side of the ship and painted it. This was the latter part of 1940 or the first part of 1941. When Stratton first saw the ship it was under repairs. He recalls men cutting and using blow torches to fix things. His first duty aboard the Arizona was fire watch. He recalls the chaplain saying that it will be better when they were at sea. Stratton was in the 6th Division which was a boat division. He was in control of the port side five inch antiaircraft guns as a sight setter in the port director. The captain and the admiral were both killed near where Stratton worked. The Arizona as a happy ship and Stratton enjoyed his time aboard. They stopped in Long Beach for three days then went to Pearl Harbor. Stratton and the Arizona spent about six months in Pearl Harbor, conducting maneuvers and gunnery practice. Stratton recalls firing all 12 main battery 14 inch guns on one side. It moved the 35,000 ton ship roughly 30 feet in the water every time they were fired. Stratton recalls one time being in a 50 foot crew boat 20 miles away from the Arizona. They were rigging targets for the Arizona. The projectiles would be painted so they could tell what target was getting hit by what projectile. They could see the shells coming at them. One time a shell hit short of the target but the force of the blast destroyed the target.
Donald Stratton went aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona (BB-39) put the Missouri to shame in terms of living conditions. The decks on the Arizona looked as if they could eat off of them. They washed the decks every day. There was a certain pride that circulated among the men because they served on a battleship. The food aboard the Arizona was very good. Every Wednesday and Saturday morning they had beans aboard the ship. The living quarters aboard the Arizona were state of the art. When she got hit at Pearl Harbor, all of the new paint helped the fire. They had a lot of liberty while in Pearl Harbor. There were a lot of cathouses [Annotator's Note: brothels or houses of prostitution] around Pearl Harbor as well as numerous places to grab a drink. Since there were eight battleships there were a lot of sailors. Each ship had a contingent of about 90 Marines. There was also a big Army presence in Pearl Harbor. Stratton was 19 years old in 1941. There were a lot of inter-ship competitions. They had rowing, boxing, and wrestling competitions. They had been out on maneuvers just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had two ambassadors in Washington D.C. as a decoy. Stratton doesn't think the ambassadors were in a position to negotiate peace. He believes the attack was inevitable and that no amount of diplomacy was going to help. Stratton and the other sailors had no idea of impending war. The only idea they had about war came from their last maneuver. The last maneuver only allowed the soldiers three gallons of water per day. Stratton and the men felt like they were practicing for something. They were training using less water than they normally were allotted. The night before 7 December [Annotator's Note: 7 December 1941], Stratton was aboard ship. All of the bands were in competition that night but it was not aboard the Arizona. It was just a regular night aboard the ship. Some of the seaman that Stratton knew at the time were on the beach with their wives, some of those men did not get back to the ship until after the attack.
Donald Stratton recalls that none of the men were sleeping [Annotator's Note: when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began on the morning of 7 December 1941]. The USS Arizona (BB-39) had reveille every morning at five then they ate breakfast at seven. Stratton states that the idea that everyone was asleep at the start of the attack is "a bunch of crap for the history books." No one could be ashore past one o'clock in the morning. Stratton knew of no one who was asleep when the attack started. He had just finished breakfast in the 6th casemate. Stratton's locker was in a passage way between the No. 1 and No. 2 casemates. He had picked up some oranges for his buddy Karl Nelson. Nelson had been in sick bay; Nelson did not make it. Sailors were yelling on the bow of the deck. Stratton went up to check it out and saw one of the water towers get shot up. He saw the plane peel away and that is when he realized that Pearl Harbor was under attack. He was on the deck above the bridge. He crawled up the ladders and got in the director. Stratton was the sight man for the director. He broke the locks on some of the ammunition boxes near the guns so they could start shooting. He could look down on the deck and see all of the soldiers. He saw everyone getting hit. He witnessed the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) take a few torpedoes. He also saw the USS Tennessee (BB-43) and USS West Virginia (BB-48) get hit. It was a very confusing situation. There was a repair ship Annotator's Note: the USS Vestal (AR-4)] next to the Arizona. The broadside guns were manned by the Marines. The dive bombers, the strafers, and the high altitude bombers were giving the gunners the most problems. The five inch guns were pretty big and they had problems aiming at the high altitude bombers. The initial bomb hit shook the ship and blew 110 feet of the bow off. The Arizona burned for three and a half days after that. A million pounds of ammunition exploded, along with aviation gas and fuel oil. It was a horrible day. Stratton was inside of the director which protected him a little. He got caught in the fireball with no place to go. It seemed like forever and then the flames died down. Instantly there was smoke everywhere. Stratton got a man [Annotator's Note: Chief Boatswain's Mate Joseph L. George] on the USS Vestal (AR-4)'s attention. He threw them a line and they tied it off on the Arizona. Stratton climbed hand over hand to the Vestal on the rope; afterwards he was burnt. Six of them went across that line; Stratton is the only person left. He suffered 60 to 70 percent burns over his body. He pulled the skin off that was no good. He was positioned in the center of the ship. The Vestal was about 70 feet away. The rope was suspended 45 feet in the air. Stratton stayed on the Vestal for a while because the Japanese were still attacking. He was finally put into a shore boat that took them ashore and after that he was sent to the naval hospital. He was in the hospital for about a year after Pearl Harbor. He got back to the United States on Christmas Day 1941.
Donald Stratton went to Corona, California towards the end of 1942. He was there for a couple months before he was medically discharged from the Navy. He was out for about a year, during which time his condition steadily improved. They would not let him re-enlist in the Navy until he could prove that he was fit for duty. He went through the draft. He eventually got permission from the Navy and was sent back through boot camp to prove that he could perform. Stratton pushed about 120 men through boot camp. He was sent to Treasure Island and went aboard the USS Stack (DD-406). They assisted with landings in New Guinea. Stratton also spent time in the Philippines and at Okinawa. He and the Stack were on picket duty between Okinawa and Japan. Their job was to use radar to pick up the incoming kamikaze planes coming from Japan. He recalls kamikaze flights of up to 200 planes. The kamikazes sank or damaged over 100 ships in Wiseman's Cove on Okinawa. After getting off picket patrol, they decided they were going to send some gunners back to electric and hydraulic school in San Diego. Stratton went to the repair base in San Diego and went through electric and hydraulic school. He went on a furlough and when he got back the war was over. He did not have enough points and he was told he could not be discharged until he finished the electric and hydraulic school. He was then sent to St. Louis, Missouri and was discharged for the second time on 4 December 1945. Stratton felt like he had to go back into the Navy because he had friends serving and he wanted to get revenge. He does not want anything to do with the Japanese, even to this day. He feels like he is still representing the men who were killed aboard the USS Arizona (BB-39). Stratton has been back to Pearl Harbor many times. He has an indescribable feeling when he stands over the Arizona. It saddens him to know some of his ship mates are still there. Only 344 sailors got off of the Arizona, 1,177 men died aboard the ship. Now, there are maybe 35 men left. Stratton feels a great sense of pride knowing he served aboard the USS Arizona. To this day he still feels animosity towards the Japanese. He brought both of his sons to the Arizona for the 25th reunion. His sons are both married and have kids. His oldest son is a Vietnam veteran and is suffering from the after effects of Agent Orange.
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