DENVER - December 7, 2016 marks 75 years since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor killing 1,177 men on the USS Arizona.
A Colorado man, Don Stratton, remembers that day well. He was there.
A Seaman First Class, Stratton had just finished breakfast aboard the Arizona when Japanese planes swooped in.
“You could see the pilots and they waved and everything,” Stratton recalled.
Stratton tried to help direct the return fire, but the Arizona was docked alongside a maintenance ship and was hemmed in.
"We couldn't shoot at the ones on that side (port) because the vessel was in the way. And we couldn't shoot the other way because our super structure was in the way and it was over Ford Island," he said.
The ropes that held the two ships together would later help save Stratton’s life, but there was one more challenge before he could even think of escaping.
"Then the big one hit along the port side of No. 2 turret,” he remembered. “Hit a million pounds of ammunition and 18,000 gallons of aviation gasoline.”
The resulting fireball engulfed the sailors. More than 70 percent of Stratton’s body was burned. To this day, he doesn’t have any fingerprints.
Still, somehow he was able to go hand-over-hand on a rope to the adjoining ship.
Stratton spent a year in the hospital enduring countless surgeries and skin grafts.
When he finally got out, he did the unthinkable.
Stratton re-enlisted and served out World War II with the Navy in the South Pacific.
For his efforts throughout the war, Stratton was given a Purple Heart and other medals, but he doesn’t like to make a big deal of the honors.
"With a couple of bucks you could buy a cup of coffee," Stratton told Denver7’s Mitch Jelniker.
"But you must be proud of those?" Jelniker asked.
"Well, yeah, I guess I earned them," Stratton responded.
Don would rather read about news today than talk about that day in 1941, but he never misses an opportunity to pay homage to his shipmates.
"Every time I go into the shrine room there I see all the names on the wall. A lot of sailors that I knew,” Stratton said.
When asked what he wants people to remember about that day, Stratton said “Well, remember we weren’t very vigilant.”
Stratton’s account of that fateful day is the subject of a new book called All the Gallant Men.
It provides detail of an attack that Stratton hopes will serve as a powerful reminder for our nation, even if the event itself forever haunts the very survivors who know the story best.