DENVER – A Navy sailor credited posthumously Thursday with a Bronze Star Medal for saving the life of a young sailor who now lives in Colorado Springs, and the lives of several others, from the USS Arizona when it was attacked while in Pearl Harbor 76 years ago was honored on the Senate floor as well.
Sen. Cory Gardner took to the floor to honor Joseph George, who was posthumously awarded with the medal at a ceremony at Pearl Harbor Thursday, for saving Colorado Springs veteran Donald Stratton that fateful day. His medal was awarded with a V device for valor.
Stratton suffered burns and other injuries when the USS Arizona was hit by Japanese bombers on Dec. 7, 1941. For 16 years, he has tried to get George honored for saving his life and those of others when he hooked a rope between the Arizona and another boat, where surviving victims were brought. More than 1,100 people aboard the Arizona died that day.
George died in 1996, but told a University of North Texas historian he was the then-unknown man who had saved the lives of Stratton, Lauren Bruner and several others.
According to the Navy, George told the historian there were “people over on the Arizona that were trying to get off, and there was fire all around.”
George was a second-class petty officer aboard the USS Vestal, which hooked up to the Arizona after it was hit. He survived the war and retired from the Navy in 1955 as a chief petty officer after 20 years in the service.
“Joe George is an American hero and deserves this long-awaited honor,” Gardner said in a statement. "Colorado Springs resident, Donald Stratton, has been fighting the bureaucracy for 16 years, and was finally able to make sure Joe George was honored for saving his life, and five other lives, that fateful day. I met with Donald Stratton twice over the past few months and am honored I was able to work with him to honor Joe George. Veterans like Joe George and Donald Stratton are the best this country has to offer and I thank God every day for Americans like them.”
Stratton was especially thankful that Gardner helped get George honored after all these years.
“I thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Stratton said. “I spoke what we wanted and Senator Gardner took it right to his heart. Senator Gardner made a promise and kept it. I just appreciate what he’s done. I knew when I met him that something was going to get done.”
In addition to awarding George posthumously Thursday, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer also awarded the Silver Star Medal to Lt. j.g. Aloysious H. Schmitt for his actions aboard the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor that day.
Stratton’s ordeal at Pearl Harbor is recounted in a book he released last year called All the Gallant Men.
Gardner also read aloud a letter he sent to Stratton and George's family:
December 7, 2017
Mr. Donald Stratton and the Family of Joe George
U.S.S. Arizona, Pearl Harbor
Honolulu, Hawaii 96818
Dear Mr. Stratton and the George Family,
Dawn broke seven decades ago on this day to a world at war. The peaceful waters of this harbor churned in violent reaction to a vicious attack that changed forever the course of our nation. You know, you were here. All of you here today are united as families, soldiers, sailors and airmen through the blood and sacrifice of so many who gave so much.
The recognition of Joe George is an exclamation point to the thousands of service members on the U.S.S. Arizona and the men he saved, and the families that exist today because of his heroic actions. This has been a long time coming, a last mission for rightful recognition. As the days march forward so too have far too many of our World War II veterans – please know that your work to achieve this one last salute to courage proves that you will never be forgotten. These still waters will ripple for eternity in awe of your tireless and unyielding dedication to this great country.
On August 15, 1945 my grandfather stationed in France wrote a letter to his family that started with these words, “Aha, that day, 14 August, is indeed a history making day, and last night at twelve o’clock when at last all the rumors were confirmed that the world was at peace I said a silent prayer and know that it won’t be long until we are all together again.” To all who are present today in spirit and person – you are making history, bringing our nation together once again, as this final mission is accomplished giving due recognition for valor in combat, for heroic and meritorious service. In the words of Donald Stratton, on December 7, 1941, “Everybody had to be somewhere.” Today’s ceremony reminds our nation of how truly blessed we are because you were here.
United States Senate