Trump ex­tols Pearl Har­bor hero

Six USS Ari­zona sailors saved by Arkansan, sur­vivors say

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - FRANK E. LOCKWOOD

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Donald Trump wel­comed three Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors to the White House on Fri­day, in­clud­ing two who are alive to­day be­cause of an Arkansas man’s hero­ism.

Donald Strat­ton and Lau­ren Bruner, who served on the USS Ari­zona, were ac­com­pa­nied by the daugh­ter of Joe Ge­orge, the man who saved them.

The woman, Cabot res­i­dent Joe Ann Tay­lor, had worked for years to get the gov­ern­ment to ac­knowl­edge her fa­ther’s brav­ery.

Fri­day in the Oval Of­fice, the com­man­der in chief praised Ge­orge’s valor and Tay­lor’s de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Af­ter thank­ing Strat­ton and Bruner “for your life­time of ser­vice and your life­time of sac­ri­fice,” Trump said Ge­orge’s deeds on the day of the at­tack will never be for­got­ten.

“As Lau­ren and Don would tell you, they are here be­cause one man, Joe Ge­orge, stopped at noth­ing to save them,” Trump said. “Joe Ge­orge res­cued six men that day. He is no longer with us, but [we will] al­ways honor and re­mem­ber a man — we will al­ways do this — whose courage knew no lim­its.

“His name will go down in his­tory. Very brave. Very strong,” Trump said.

“Joe Ann, thank you for in­spir­ing our na­tion by telling the story of your fa­ther — a true pa­triot, a well-known man, a man that goes down, re­ally, in the his­tory with the Ari­zona, and a to­tal hero.”

Strat­ton, 95, of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Bruner, 96, of Tor­rance, Calif., are two of the five re­main­ing mem­bers of the USS Ari­zona crew.

A third crew mem­ber — Ken Potts, 96 — was also in at­ten­dance. The Provo, Utah, man had been on­shore when the ship was hit. Rather than flee­ing, he raced to­ward the stricken ves­sel, sav­ing sev­eral ship­mates from the flames.

Dur­ing his speech, Trump thanked Tay­lor and the vet­er­ans “for re­mind­ing us who we are, where we come from, and why we never, ever give up.”

“In them,” Trump said, “we see the strength of our na­tion.”

Although Strat­ton and Bruner never knew Ge­orge, their lives will be for­ever linked.

Orig­i­nally from Ge­or­gia, Ge­orge served on the USS Vestal, a re­pair ship that was moored to the Ari­zona.

On the morn­ing of Dec. 7, 1941, both ships were hit by Ja­panese bombers. The Vestal, though dam­aged, could limp away. But the bat­tle­ship be­side it could not be saved; 1,177 of its of­fi­cers and crew per­ished.

Sur­rounded by fire and tied to a ves­sel that would soon sink, Ge­orge be­gan cut­ting the lines, as or­dered, so the Vestal could break free. But he stopped his as­signed task af­ter spot­ting men on one of the doomed ship’s tow­ers. Rather than cut­ting the fi­nal line, he grabbed a rope and hurled it across the wa­ter.

Af­ter sev­eral un­suc­cess­ful throws, Ge­orge fi­nally hit his tar­get.

The trapped sailors, bat­tered and burned, se­cured the rope to the Ari­zona and then, hand over hand, made their way across.

Dan­gling 45 feet above a flame-cov­ered sea, they some­how tra­versed the 75-foot-long rope, es­cap­ing be­fore the lines were fi­nally sev­ered. Soon there­after, the Ari­zona slipped be­neath the wa­ter.

The sur­vivors, badly in­jured, never met the boatswain’s mate sec­ond class who had thrown them the rope.

Af­ter the war, Ge­orge worked in Cal­i­for­nia for a time, even­tu­ally mov­ing to his wife’s home state of Arkansas.

In the years that fol­lowed, he some­times at­tended an­nual Pearl Har­bor Day ob­ser­vances, gath­er­ing with other Arkansans who had lived through the at­tack.

Dur­ing his life­time, the Navy never hon­ored Ge­orge for sav­ing six lives.

Shortly be­fore his death, Strat­ton and Bruner learned the iden­tity of the man who had thrown them the rope. Since then, they have worked to keep his name and his mem­ory alive.

Last year, Strat­ton wrote a book ti­tled All the Gal­lant Men: An Amer­i­can Sailor’s First­hand Ac­count of Pearl Har­bor.

In it, he em­pha­sized the debt he owes to Ge­orge.

“Had Joe Ge­orge not stood up for us — had he not been a rebel and re­fused to cut the line con­nect­ing the Vestal to the Ari­zona — we would have been cooked to death on that plat­form,” he wrote. “If any­one de­served a Medal of Honor that day, in my opin­ion, it was him. And I know at least five oth­ers who would sec­ond that.”

Tay­lor, Strat­ton and Bruner bonded at cer­e­monies mark­ing the 75th an­niver­sary of Pearl Har­bor and de­cided to take a jour­ney to Wash­ing­ton.

Nei­ther of the vet­er­ans had ever been to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Fed­eral of­fi­cials worked hard to make the visit mem­o­rable.

Thurs­day, Tay­lor and the vet­er­ans toured the World War II memo­rial, ac­com­pa­nied by U.S. Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas. Later, there was a visit to Capi­tol Hill.

Fri­day, they par­tic­i­pated in a wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony at the Tomb of the Un­known Soldier, then trav­eled to the Pen­tagon. While there, they were briefed by De­fense Secretary James Mat­tis and greeted by the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chief of naval op­er­a­tions.

In the af­ter­noon, they headed to the White House. Af­ter vis­it­ing with Trump, they were given a two-hour tour of the ex­ec­u­tive man­sion.

Tay­lor said her fa­ther would’ve been sur­prised by Fri­day’s honor.

“He wasn’t the kind of per­son that ever sought at­ten­tion,” she said. “He’d be grate­ful, I’m sure, that some­body was rec­og­niz­ing his hero­ics.”

Tay­lor said her time at the White House had been “very mov­ing and very in­spir­ing.”

“I’m enor­mously grate­ful,” she said, “that my fa­ther’s story is be­ing told.”

AP Photo/Alex Bran­don

Pres­i­dent Donald Trump greets Velma Strat­ton and USS Ari­zona sur­vivor Donald Strat­ton dur­ing a meet­ing with sur­vivors of the at­tack on the USS Ari­zona at Pearl Har­bor in the Oval Of­fice of the White House on Fri­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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