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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

"It means everything," Taylor said. "It's a wonderful, exciting thing because it validates everything we know about my father."

The process to get George the medal began in 2002, according to Randy Stratton, Donald's son. But progress was sluggish -- until last year.

On the 75th anniversary of the attack a year ago, the Strattons met Matt Previts, an officer in naval intelligence. Stratton and Bruner recounted George's actions, and Previts said he would help to "try and work things from the inside."

They flew to Washington. They met with four senators, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and President Donald Trump earlier this year. Previts said having them all hear George's story told directly from those he saved sped things along.

"It went from a proposal to being personal," Previts said. "That was the moment. It was a real story, and I think everyone recognized Joe had acted heroically."

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced the proclamation in August and, with five co-sponsors -- both Republican and Democratic -- it passed unanimously in the Senate in September. Flake called the honor "long overdue."


"It has been a privilege to join USS Arizona survivors Donald Stratton and Lauren Bruner -- both heroes in their own right -- and the families of Joe and the men whose lives he saved, to help secure this honor for Joe George," Flake said in a statement.

Randy Stratton notes that "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for what Joe George did. I have him to thank for saving my father."

George, who was born in Georgia, joined the Navy when he was 20. It was 1935 and he'd already turned down a college football scholarship, Taylor said. She said he instead went to boot camp, trained in Norfolk, Va., and was soon stationed in Pearl Harbor.

The surprise attack by the Japanese that Sunday morning lasted for about two hours, and when it was finished, more than 2,400 people were dead and about 1,000 were wounded. Almost half of those who died at Pearl Harbor were on the Arizona. The Vestal also sank that day.


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