During the awful morning at Pearl Harbor in 1941, there were many acts of bravery that were noted by the military and the sailors were decorated for helping save many of their fellow sailor’s lives. Others were never acknowledged.
The Navy and the Pentagon is finally going to recognize the courage and bravery of boatswain’s mate second class Joe George and award him a Bronze Star medal for rescuing six badly burned sailors off the battleship Arizona. George, aboard the maintenance ship USS Vestal, was ordered to cast off lines to get his ship moving, on the morning that the Japanese attacked.
George disregarded it. He saw men, he knew would drown in the oily water surrounding the Arizona and threw them a line. That saved their lives and they never forgot the unknown sailor who helped them although he was never recognized for it. George died in 1996. One of those sailors rescued, Donald Stratton was instrumental in getting George the recognition he so deserved.
In 1966, Donald Stratton returned to Pearl Harbor for the first time since the attack. He hadn’t talked about it much until then, but after that visit, he revealed more of what happened, of his rescue from the Arizona.
Stratton and five other crewmen were trapped on a burning tower as the battleship buckled beneath the Japanese assault. They were burned badly and thought they would die. Until they saw the sailor on the Vestal.
Randy Stratton would listen to his dad describe the heat, the flames, the pain, the terror of climbing hand-over-hand from the Arizona to the Vestal, the elation of rescue. He wondered about the Vestal sailor and searched until he learned the identity. When he discovered the sailor was never given a medal, he undertook the cause.
George will be recognized during the Pearl Harbor Day commemoration service Thursday morning on shore. The families will gather on the USS Arizona memorial for a private ceremony at 4:30 p.m. with Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Stratton has told the story of Joe George as often as he has told his own. He grows emotional when he recounts the rescue and almost angry when he talks about the Navy’s failure to award the young sailor a medal.
“He should have the Navy Cross,” Stratton said in a 2014 interview with The Republic. “He saved six people’s lives. Joe saved six lives and he didn’t get crap. He refused to cut the line no matter what. As far he was concerned he was saving lives.”
Things finally changed in 1978 when conducting an oral history for North Texas State University, George told the emotional story of what happened that day, stating that he was the “unknown sailor” who helped the men of the Arizona.
The story was corroborated by the log book of the Vestal and George’s records which showed that George was commended by the commander for his actions in saving the sailors but never awarded anything from it.
To read the entire article from Arizona Central click here:
Photo courtesy Wikipedia