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Pearl Harbor survivors persuade officials to award medal to man who saved their lives

David Montero, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The ship was burning and Donald Stratton and Lauren Bruner thought they were going to die.

Bruner already had been wounded aboard the USS Arizona, taking bullets to a leg. He was bleeding badly. Stratton was burned on his back, face and leg. Part of his ear was missing. Japanese Zeros buzzed above Pearl Harbor.

Through the smoke and haze, Stratton saw Joe George standing on the deck of the USS Vestal -- a repair ship moored next to the Arizona. George had been ordered to cut the lines between the two ships as the battleship was sinking. But Stratton and Bruner were yelling at him to throw them a rope. A lifeline. An officer ordered George to let the men be.

He threw the rope anyway.

It was caught and secured to the Arizona, and Stratton and Bruner began scooting along it, hand over hand, for 75 feet. It felt much longer.

"As we got closer, he was standing there nodding his head yelling, 'You can make it! You can make it! You can make it!'" Stratton said in a phone interview Monday from Hawaii.

 

The two did make it -- along with four others on the Arizona. Two eventually succumbed to injuries, but those who survived credit George with saving them. Despite his act, he never was awarded a medal.

That will change Thursday.

His family will see him honored at Pearl Harbor on the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. At around sunset, Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, will present the Bronze Star Medal to George's daughter, Joe Ann Taylor, at the USS Arizona memorial -- reversing a past decision by the Navy to not give him a medal for disobeying that order. It's one of the nation's highest awards given.

Both Bruner, 97, and Stratton, 95, will be in attendance as well. George died in 1996.

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