Trump extols Pearl Harbor hero
Six USS Arizona sailors saved by Arkansan, survivors say
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.”
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.