PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — Four of the remaining nine USS Arizona survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack are vowing this year’s anniversary won’t be their last reunion.
The men in their 90s gathered for a news conference Tuesday in a building overlooking the memorial that sits on top of the Arizona, a battleship that sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack. Even though it’s the last official survivor gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Association, the men said they still plan to get together, even if not in Hawaii.
“I don’t think this is going to be our last. … We’ve still got time to go,” said Louis Conter, 93, of Grass Valley, California. “We’ll be back out here no matter whether the rest of the crowd can make it or not.”
Donald Stratton, 92, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was one of the few survivors of a gun director in the forward part of the ship. More than 65 percent of his body was burned. Stratton was hospitalized for more than year and then was medically discharged from the Navy. He then reenlisted a year later.
“The good Lord saved just a few of us,” he said.
Sunday marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack that killed about 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers. During a private event Sunday, the four men will toast their shipmates, drinking from replicas of champagne glasses from the Arizona. They will share a bottle of sparkling wine that was a gift to the survivors association from President Gerald Ford’s visit to Spain in 1975.
The men arrived at the Pearl Harbor visitor center on Tuesday to military salutes, music from the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band and photos from tourists. At the news conference, they reminisced about the attack.
“I learned something about faith,” said John Anderson, 97, of Roswell, New Mexico, recalling that he had just gone to church services and was heading to breakfast when someone said they saw the planes coming. He became teary-eyed as he discussed his twin brother dying in the attack.
“It’s always like yesterday when we’re out here,” said Conter.
The survivors on Tuesday also watched a live-feed of a dive along the Arizona’s sunken hull, which still holds the bodies of more than 900 of about 1,177 men who died on the battleship.
Ashes of 38 survivors are interred there.
National Park Service Historian Daniel Martinez, moderating Tuesday’s discussion, seemed overcome with emotion when he announced that Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner, 94, of La Mirada, California, last year signed paperwork for his intentions to be interred there. Conter plans to do the same, he said.
“It seems like after a while nobody pays attention to them anymore, after about 5 years,” Bruner said of his decision not to be buried in a cemetery. “I hope a lot of people will still be … coming over to the Arizona and we’ll be glad to see them.”
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