Stratton is from Red Cloud, Nebraska. His family was farmers early on in their lives. His father ended up owning a tavern. Stratton had one sister older than him and two brothers younger than him. His little brother joined the service. He lives in Oregon now. He was in the Marine Corps in Korea. His other brother joined the Navy and was wounded in Korea. Stratton joined the Navy for the adventure of it. The idea of going to sea intrigued him. When he graduated from high school he met with a Navy recruiter and joined the Navy.Stratton notes that people today have no idea what it was like back then. They had just come out of the dust bowl. There were times Stratton remembers his parents getting in arguments because they did not know where their next meal was going to come from. His family got by alright. He could not turn down the twenty one dollars that the Navy was going to offer him. He went through his basic training at the Great Lakes base. Stratton did not take any special training. He went through boot camp and then everyone was divided up to go to different ships. Stratton was assigned to the USS Arizona. Stratton caught a train to Washington where the Arizona was tied up in the dock. The Arizona was put into dry dock in Washington for repairs. Stratton recalls scraping barnacles off of the side of the ship and painting it. This was the latter part of 1940, perhaps 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 coming by and saying, "Don't worry sailors, it will be better when we are at sea." Stratton was in the 6th division which was a boat division. He was in control of the five inch and twenty-five inch port antiaircraft guns. Stratton was a sight setter one deck above the bridge. The captain and the admiral were both killed near where Stratton worked as a sight setter. He characterizes the Arizona as a "happy ship." He enjoyed his time aboard it. The Arizona stopped in Long Beach for three days. Half of the ship had liberty while the other half stayed aboard. They then set sail for Pearl Harbor which took about five days. Stratton and the Arizona spent about six months in Pearl Harbor, conducting maneuvers and gunnery practice. It was routine practice. Stratton recalls firing all twelve fourteen inch guns on one side. It moved the 35,000 ton ship roughly thirty feet in the water every time they were fired. Stratton recalls one time being in a fifty foot crew boat twenty miles away from the Arizona. They were rigging targets for the Arizona. They would repeat the process of setting up targets multiple times. The projectiles would be painted so they could tell what target was getting hit by what projectile. Stratton notes that you could see the shells coming at you. He recalls one time a shell hit short of the target in the water but the force and concussive blast of the shell was able to destroy the target despite not getting a direct hit.
Stratton went aboard the Missouri [Annotators Note: USS Missouri (BB-63)] in Pearl Harbor. The Arizona put the Missouri to shame in terms of living conditions. The decks on the Arizona looked as if one 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 on 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 [Annotators Note: brothels/ houses of prostitution] near and 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 ninety marines. There was also a big army presence in Pearl Harbor as well.Stratton was nineteen years old in 1941. There were a lot of inner ship competitions. They had rowing, boxing, and wrestling competitions. They had been out on maneuvers just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He recalls that the Japanese had two ambassadors in Washington D.C. as a decoy. He does not believe that those ambassadors were in any 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. Something was in the air, Stratton and the men felt like they were practicing for something. They were training using less water than they normally were allotted, this was strange to him. The night before December 7th [Annotators Note: 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.
Stratton recalls that none of the men were sleeping. The Arizona had reveille every morning at 5 AM. They ate breakfast every morning at 7 AM. No one was asleep. He 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. Stratton saw everyone getting hit. He witnessed the Oklahoma take a few torpedoes. He also saw the Tennessee and West Virginia get hit. It was a very confusing situation. There was a repair ship 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. Stratton notes that five inch guns were pretty big. They had problems that morning aiming at the high altitude bombers. Stratton recalls that the initial bomb hit shook the ship like a dog would shake a rat. It blew 110 feet of the bow of the ship clear 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 that director. It protected him a little bit. 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 on the Vestal's attention. He threw them a line and they tied it off on the Arizona. Stratton climbed hand over hand to the Vestal on that strip of rope; afterwards he was burnt. Six of them went across that line; Stratton is the only person left. He suffered sixty to seventy percent burn wounds over his body. He just pulled the skin off that was no good. He was positioned in the center of the ship. The Vestal was about seventy feet away. The rope was suspended forty five feet in the air. Stratton stayed on the Vestal for a little while because the Japanese were still attacking. He was finally put into a shore boat. It took them ashore and after that he was sent to the US 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.
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 was a recruit CEO, and pushed about a hundred and twenty men through boot camp. He was sent to Treasure Island and went aboard the USS Stack (DD-406.) They assisted at landings in New Guinea. Stratton also saw 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 two hundred planes. The kamikazes sunk and damaged over a hundred ships in Wisemans 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 December 4th, 1945.Stratton felt like he had to go back into the Navy because he had friends serving and he "wanted to get a little 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 Arizona. 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. Sixty-five years later it is estimated that there are only forty two still alive. There are maybe thirty five men left. Stratton can only name maybe ten. He 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 twenty-fifth reunion. His sons are both married and have kids. His oldest son is a Vietnam veteran; he is suffering from the after effects of Agent Orange.
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