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Remembering one of our county's greatest

 

February 19, 2020

I hope all are doing well today, and that you enjoyed a nice Presidents' Day weekend. In addition to remembering that holiday I also want to mention the passing of one of our county's veteran heroes from Pearl Harbor and WWII who passed away Saturday.

I'd like to use most of today's article on Colorado Springs and El Paso County resident, Gunner's Mate Second Class Donald G. Stratton, who passed away on Feb. 15 at his home. He was 97 years old. Mr. Stratton was one of the last surviving Americans who served onboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. On that day he survived burns to over two-thirds of his body which he suffered as a result of explosions and fire on the battleship prior to its sinking. He was discharged from the Navy afterward because of his injuries. But after recovering from his injuries and wanting to continue service during WWII, he fought for and was allowed to re-enlist and return to active duty. He was a prime example of the "greatest generation."

I had the privilege to meet Mr. Stratton twice over the past several years. The first was at the dedication of the bridge over Interstate 25 at Filmore Street, near his home in Colorado Springs, which was renamed in his honor. The second was at the unveiling of an interactive exhibit at the Colorado Springs Airport featuring stories and artifacts about Pearl Harbor, Mr. Stratton and his fellow shipmates, and the USS Arizona. The centerpiece of this exhibit is a large slab of metal from the battleship's wreckage, which Mr. Stratton was instrumental in obtaining.

The story I heard Mr. Stratton speak of personally at one of those events, and which I later read about in greater detail, dealt with his rescue from the USS Arizona. He gave great credit to Boatswain's Mate Joe George, who was on the supply vessel USS Vestal, for saving his life. The USS Vestal was tethered to the USS Arizona during the attack. With the USS Arizona on fire, Joe George was ordered to cut the line connecting the two ships. However, seeing six sailors from the USS Arizona needing help, he delayed orders to cut line and instead passed a rope to those in need. Don Stratton and his five shipmates climbed across, over waters which were afire from spilling fuel, to the USS Vestal. Years later, Don Stratton was surprised to learn that Joe George was never decorated for saving the lives of the six sailors. Mr. Stratton's efforts to remember his rescuer resulted in Joe George being awarded a posthumous Bronze Star Medal in 2017.

There were about 2,400 Americans killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Of those, 1,177 were Don's shipmates from the USS Arizona. His death leaves two surviving sailors, Lou Conter and Ken Potts, from the crew of the USS Arizona. I'm an Air Force veteran but today will quote the navy when they honor their own. Fair Winds and Following Seas, Mr. Stratton.

Finally, I hope all were able to take advantage of the relatively nice weather this past Saturday – Monday to enjoy Presidents' Day weekend. The federal holiday is annually celebrated on the third Monday in February. It evolved from the annual remembrance of our first U.S. President, George Washington, who was born on Feb. 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. After his death in 1799, his birthday became a day informally commemorated each year, but it would finally become a holiday in the late 1800s.

History.com states the effort to create a holiday to celebrate Washington's birthday began in the late 1870s. "Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas was the first to propose the measure, and in 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it in law," although it "originally only applied to the District of Columbia." It became a national holiday observed by all states in 1885. It became popularly known as Presidents' Day after the day of commemoration was moved as part of 1971's Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Since then, it has become a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents. God bless, everyone. And thank you again, Mr. Stratton, for your service to Country; you will be remembered well.

 

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