USS Arizona survivors Donald Stratton (L) and Lauren Bruner (R), with Stratton's wife, Verna, and Joe Ann George (standing). Image: Hawaii News Now
Two of the five remaining survivors of the USS Arizona were taken on a helicopter flyover of Pearl Harbor, including a bird's eye view of the battleship that exploded and sank in the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.
Donald Stratton and Lauren Bruner were accompanied by their families and friends as they boarded four Blue Hawaiian helicopters at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Wednesday afternoon. They were flown on a 15-minute flight to Pearl Harbor -- and back 76 years.
Stratton was just 19 years old when the attack occurred. The flight was his first time to see his old ship from above. He couldn't help but become emotional.
"It's hard to say, what you're thinking," he said. "That's my ship and I remember being aboard and what happened and the shots, so ... just brings back a lot of memories."
"Seeing the outline of his ship again, I mean it was an incredible -- it was just incredible," said Stratton's granddaughter, Nikki Stratton, who organized the flyover.
Bruner was badly burned when a bomb exploded in the forward magazine of the battleship.
"Last year was his first flight over the memorial," said Bruner's neighbor and caregiver Ed Hoeschen. "He'd never been on a helicopter. And he'd definitely not seen the Arizona from that angle, so it was quite emotional to him."
This year, Bruner took the flight again, this time as a chance to visit his old shipmates.
"It was a chance to say hello again," he said. "May be my last one."
The two men were joined by Joe Ann Taylor. She's the daughter of Joe George, the man Stratton and Bruner credit with saving their lives.
"Threw a heaving line up to them, and they were burned on a huge portion of their bodies, 60, 70 percent. And they came down the rope that my father threw over there."
It's possible this will be the last time these men get to do this, as age makes it more difficult to visit.
"We try to make the reunions every year, but we don't know," said Stratton. "That's in God's hands."
Stratton and Bruner plan to be present when the Navy posthumously awards the Bronze Star Medal to Joseph George, who died in 1996. Taylor will receive the medal in a private ceremony Thursday afternoon at the USS Arizona Memorial.