WASHINGTON — Don Stratton of Colorado Springs survived Pearl Harbor. He’s one of fewer than five USS Arizona survivors still alive today. But he wouldn’t be, if not for the heroics of a stranger.
And today, 76 years later, that hero is finally getting the honor he deserves.
Boatswain Mate Second Class Joseph Leon George is being posthumously honored with the Navy Bronze Star with valor.
George saved Stratton and five other sailors on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Stratton had just finished breakfast aboard the USS Arizona when the Japanese attack planes came swooping in over Hawaii. That’s when a bomb went off, igniting an explosion on the ship that killed more than 1100 sailors and Marines.
Stratton was burned over 60 percent of his body. But he made it off alive, thanks to a stranger. For years, no one knew Joseph George was the man who threw a literal lifeline to Stratton and five others. He tossed a rope from another ship, the Vestal. And they pulled themselves to safety.
“Despite the fact that he was ordered to cut the line, to cut the rope between the Vestal and the sinking Arizona, relentlessly heaved a line over and over, spanning a distance of over almost 80 feet between the two ships, until Joe was finally able with his rope to reach the sailors,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, (R) Colorado announced on the senate floor Thursday.
For 36 years, no one knew who that hero was. But in 1978 George gave an interview to a college in Texas, and the mystery was solved.
Nearly ever since, Don Stratton of Colorado Springs has been trying to get George the honor he deserves. And it’s finally happening. Today, George’s family will receive the Navy Bronze Star with valor.
“Donald Stratton’s last mission is complete with the recognition of the man who saved his life,” Gardner said.