Pro­ject seeks to pro­file all 1,177 of USS Ari­zona’s dead

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Shaun McKin­non

On the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Ari­zona in Tuc­son, em­bed­ded in the curv­ing brick walls of a me­mo­rial, are rows of medal­lions, each bear­ing the name of a USS Ari­zona crew mem­ber killed when Ja­panese bombers at­tacked Pearl Har­bor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Af­ter 77 years, the story of the mighty bat­tle­ship has been told again and again: how it took heavy fire, how a bomb blew it apart, how it sank into the har­bor.

Over time, other sto­ries from the Ari­zona have emerged, about un­sung he­roes and har­row­ing es­capes. But some sto­ries have never been told, es­pe­cially sto­ries about the 1,177 crew mem­bers who died in the at­tack.

“Peo­ple are very happy when I reach them. They see this is a story that’s fad­ing, and they know that gen­er­a­tion is es­sen­tially gone.” Bob­bie Jo Buel For­mer news­pa­per who’s com­pil­ing bi­ogra­phies of the USS Ari­zona dead

The UA me­mo­rial, ded­i­cated in 2016, was meant to en­sure the names of those crew­men weren’t for­got­ten. As work pro­gressed on cam­pus, Bob­bie Jo Buel, a for­mer news­pa­per ed­i­tor, of­fered to go a step fur­ther and com­pile short bi­ogra­phies of the 1,177 sailors and Marines as a way to help vis­i­tors go be­yond the names.

“I said, ‘I’ll help you track it down. I’ll give you two weeks,’ ” said Buel, whose hus­band, David Carter, de­signed the me­mo­rial. “I as­sumed some­body had done this be­fore and that I just needed to find it and get their per­mis­sion.”

Two and a half years later, she’s still at it. She’s writ­ten bios of 394 of the crew­men, mak­ing her way through about one-third of the list. No one else, it turned out, had done the work in all these years.

“Ev­ery­body is very happy when I ap­proach them,” she said. “And there is some­thing about the Ari­zona that res­onates.”

Ob­ser­vances in Ari­zona, Hawaii

The UA will mark the 77th an­niver­sary of the Pearl Har­bor at­tack this morn­ing at the me­mo­rial, which sits a few hun­dred feet from a tower that houses one of the Ari­zona’s bells.

In the past, USS Ari­zona sur­vivors have rung the bell as part of Pearl Har­bor Day cer­e­monies, but this year, none of the five re­main­ing sur­vivors will make the trip to Tuc­son or to Pearl Har­bor in Honolulu.

It’s the first time in re­cent mem­ory that none of the Ari­zona’s liv­ing crew mem­bers have re­turned to the site of the at­tack.

Two years ago, four of the sur­vivors made the trip to Pearl Har­bor as the re­mains of two of their fallen crew­mates were in­terred in the sunken ship’s wreck­age.

In Phoenix, the state Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Ser­vices will host Pearl Har­bor Re­mem­brance Day to­day at Wes­ley Bolin Me­mo­rial Plaza, on West Wash­ing­ton Street near the state Capi­tol.

Mu­si­cal salutes be­gin at 10:15 a.m. The Ari­zona Com­mem­o­ra­tive Air Force will stage a fly­over in a Boe­ing B-17G and a Dou­glas C-47A at 10:55 a.m., the lo­cal time when the Ja­panese raid on Pearl Har­bor be­gan in 1941.

Gov. Doug Ducey will lay a me­mo­rial wreath at the USS Ari­zona an­chor, which sits on one end of the plaza. The an­chor was sal­vaged from the bat­tle­ship and moved to Ari­zona in 1972.

In­side the Ari­zona Capi­tol Mu­seum, a spe­cial ex­hibit will fea­ture items from the col­lec­tion of Lou Con­ter, one of the five re­main­ing sur­vivors of the Ari­zona. The last Ari­zona sur­vivors are:

❚ Lau­ren Bruner, 98, of La Mi­rada, Cal­i­for­nia.

❚ Lou Con­ter,


❚ Lon­nie Cook, 98, of Morris, Ok­la­homa.

❚ Ken Potts, 97, of Provo, Utah.

❚ Don­ald Strat­ton, 96, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. 97, of Grass

Sur­vivors stay in touch

The re­mem­brance cer­e­monies at Pearl Har­bor will be miss­ing more than the Ari­zona sur­vivors this year. The USS Ari­zona Me­mo­rial re­mains closed be­cause of struc­tural problems and isn’t ex­pected to re­open to vis­i­tors be­fore March.

Nikki Strat­ton, grand­daugh­ter of Don­ald Strat­ton, keeps in con­tact with all five of the sur­vivors and has helped co­or­di­nate travel in past years. She said the men are dis­ap­pointed that the me­mo­rial is closed and have talked about try­ing to help raise money to speed re­pairs.

Nikki and her fa­ther, Randy Strat­ton, have worked to col­lect sto­ries and pho­to­graphs from the sur­vivors to dis­play on­line. They have also helped col­lect money for Ari­zona crew­men who have needed help. Their web­site is at ari­zona fi­nal­, where vis­i­tors can do­nate to help sur­vivors and fam­ily mem­bers who want to re­turn to Pearl Har­bor in the fu­ture.

Strat­ton, Bruner and Potts vis­ited the White House in July 2017 to ask Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for help in rec­og­niz­ing Joe Ge­orge, a sailor who de­fied or­ders from the deck of a sup­ply ship and res­cued the last six Ari­zona crew­men as the burn­ing ship sank.

Ge­orge died with­out

Last De­cem­ber, the Navy fi­nally rec­og­nized Ge­orge, posthu­mously, pre­sent­ing his daugh­ter, Joe Ann Taylor, with a Bronze Star for Valor dur­ing a cer­e­mony at Pearl Har­bor.

Two of the six men Ge­orge helped es­cape the ship were Bruner and Strat­ton, now among the last of the Ari­zona sur­vivors. Both have writ­ten at length about their ex­pe­ri­ence. of­fi­cial

Too late to turn back now

Val­ley, com­men­da­tion. Buel wanted peo­ple to hear the sto­ries of the Ari­zona crew­men who died in the at­tack. As she be­gan her re­search, she soon dis­cov­ered how lit­tle in­for­ma­tion had been com­piled about the 1,177 ca­su­al­ties.

She turned first to news­pa­pers. “Dig­i­tal news­pa­per archives have been a god­send,” said Buel, who most re­cently was ed­i­tor of the

in Tuc­son. “A great many of the men got front-page obits in their home­town pa­pers.”

Many of those obit­u­ar­ies in­cluded in­ter­views with moms, dads, sis­ters, broth­ers, “peo­ple with first­hand knowl­edge,” Buel said. “When they say some­thing about the man, I know I can count on that.”

She con­sulted his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties, cold-called VFW units, combed through on­line ge­neal­ogy sites, chased down rel­a­tives and fam­ily friends.

This past sum­mer, Buel tracked down a man who had en­listed in Detroit with three of his best friends.

Some of them lied about their age — one was 15 — and all four were headed for the Ari­zona, but only two were as­signed to that ship. They both died in the at­tack.

The sur­viv­ing friend was able to fill in blanks in their sto­ries and help Buel check off two more names from the long list.

More re­cently, she was walk­ing at the UA me­mo­rial and en­coun­tered a stu­dent who dis­cov­ered a medal­lion of a crew mem­ber from the stu­dent’s home­town.

“The minute he had that per­sonal con­nec­tion, he de­cided he was go­ing to go to the li­brary back home to find out more about the guy, see if he had been hon­ored back there,” Buel said.

As she com­pletes each pro­file, Buel posts it to the me­mo­rial’s Face­book page. Even­tu­ally, all the pro­files will be com­piled on a spe­cific web­site and will be fully search­able.

With nearly 800 names still to re­search, Buel fig­ures she has an­other five years to go.

She knows she may find lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about some crew­men, but she plans to keep try­ing.

“I think it’s too late to turn back now,” she said. “Peo­ple are very happy when I reach them. They see this is a story that’s fad­ing, and they know that gen­er­a­tion is es­sen­tially gone.”

Buel re­ceives tips some­times when peo­ple hear about her work and has found sto­ries that way. She’s reach­able at bjbuel­[email protected]

The USS Ari­zona, fore­ground, is among the bat­tle­ships hit from the air dur­ing the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor on Dec. 7, 1941, 77 years ago to­day. The at­tack launched the U.S. into World War II. AP

Medal­lions dis­play the names of the USS Ari­zona’s crew mem­bers at a me­mo­rial un­veiled on the Univer­sity of Ari­zona cam­pus in 2016. PA­TRICK BREEN/THE REPUB­LIC

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