(WASHINGTON) — Hundreds of service members lined the halls of the Pentagon on Friday to welcome three of the five remaining survivors from the USS Arizona, 75 years after their ship was attacked by the Japanese in Pearl Harbor.
Lauren Bruner (Fire Controlman), Donald Stratton (Seaman First Class), and Ken Potts (Coxswain) traveled to Washington, D.C. to posthumously honor a fellow sailor who saved their lives — and those of four others — that fateful day.
During the attack, Bruner and Stratton, trapped on the burning Arizona, caught the attention of a man named Joe George, who was on a neighboring Navy vessel. George helped secure a line to the Arizona, which the men climbed some 70 or 80 feet to safety, 95-year-old Stratton said.
“And we finally got all six of us over there, and Joe George coaxing us saying, ‘Come on sailor, you can make it, you can make it,'” Stratton told ABC News.
Potts, uninjured in the attack, assisted in the recovery of his shipmate’s bodies. Over 1,000 Americans died on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.
After the grand welcome to the Pentagon, the men and their wives met with Defense Secretary James Mattis, followed by a lunch with the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Steven Giordano, as well as enlisted sailors.
They then headed to the White House to visit with President Trump, who delivered remarks in the Oval Office.
“For these three World War II veterans, Dec. 7, 1941, the brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, is forever seared into their memories,” Trump said. “It’s also seared into America’s memory, because on that grim day this mighty nation was roused to defend freedom itself.”
“There are many remarkable things that I witness as president, but nothing can take the place of meeting heroes like those with us today,” he added. “In them we see the strength of our nation, the courage of our men and women in uniform, the resolve to never accept failure, and the belief that justice will always triumph.”
Stratton told Trump that the country was “coming together again.”
“All the people we met today, and all the people that were lined along as we went along, you can tell with the military and everything that this country’s coming together again, and we’re going to be there,” he said.
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Mattis told reporters later that the sailors are a reminder of those who have endured so much during their time in military service.
“It’s a reminder why you need physical fitness standards in the military,” Mattis added. “Only way they saved themselves going from one ship to another.”
Stratton and Bruner, while severely injured during the Pearl Harbor attack, later returned to military service and deployed to the Pacific to fight in World War II.
“So we started the war and we finished it,” Stratton said.
For these men, the visit to the nation’s capital was an important way to finally honor George.
“We’re not heroes, we just got lucky and with the help of God and the good Lord we’re here today,” Stratton said.
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