HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Another survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor has died, further dwindling the generation that serves as a valuable link to the past.
The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial was lowered to half staff this weekend to honor the life of attack survivor Donald Stratton.
Family members say he died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday in Colorado Springs at the age of 97 surrounded by his son and wife of nearly 70 years, Velma.
“He’s a great man. He worked hard, he didn’t ask for anything in return. He’s a hero, but he would never say that he was a hero. He was one of those quiet heroes," his son Randy Stratton said.
Stratton grew up in Nebraska and joined the Navy in 1940.
“His first ship was the USS Arizona. During the attack on December 7th 1941, he was with 5 others in the burning forward mast and was saved when a sailor from the USS Vestal threw them a line. He crawled hand over hand, high above the water to safety, being burned over 70 percent of his body,” the memorial said in a tribute online.
“Being burned the way he was and all that other stuff, he could’ve taken the easy way out . But there’s no ‘easy way’ with him,” Randy added.
After recovering, he reenlisted and served the remainder of the war. In 1946, he was discharged at the rank of Gunners Mate Second Class.
He’s was one of the few remaining survivors of the attack.
“That generation, we’ll never see again. They’re just tough as nails, and he was tough as nails,” Randy said.
Stratton was also a kind man, especially to anyone interested in hearing his story.
“I have known that family since 1991. I visited their home several times, stayed with them. So it was, just more than a Pearl Harbor survivor, or Arizona survivor. (He) was a good friend, and almost like a secondary father to me,” said Daniel Martinez, Chief Historian at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
In casual talks with Stratton, Martinez asked him to share his story of survival from that day.
“I asked him, how did you do that? And he said, ‘I had a lot of help from God above,'" Martinez recalled.
Stratton is being remembered as a family man who took pride in his dedication to his country. Family members say one of his final wishes is that people remember Pearl Harbor, and never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“He was really a patriot," Martinez added. “The traditions of the United States Navy were embossed upon his soul.”
There are now just two remaining USS Arizona survivors: Lou Conter, who flew in for last December’s Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremony, and Ken Potts who is the oldest at 98.