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Episode #497 of Hometown Heroes, marking Veterans Day 2017, features five different veterans who shared their stories with us this year, with new developments that have happened since their radio appearances.
There are only five remaining survivors who were on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. Don Stratton survived the attack, but if you heard him on episode #457 of Hometown Heroes, you know he was trapped high above the deck on the foremast of the battleship.
“The bomb that hit on the starboard side behind number two turret went into a million pounds of ammunition and it blew up,” Stratton explains. “It just was a fireball that engulfed us up there where we were at, and no way to escape.”
Stratton and another remaining survivor, Lauren Bruner, are alive today only because of the courage of Joe George, a sailor on the USS Vestal nearby. Disobeying orders to leave the area, George tossed a heaving line up to George, Bruner, and four other stranded sailors, who then climbed down that line, tearing burnt flesh off of their scorched hands along that 70-foot descent.
Medically discharged after nearly a year in Navy hospitals, Stratton reenlisted and spent the rest of World War II serving on the destroyer USS Stack (DD-406). A few months after sharing his story on Hometown Heroes, Stratton had another very important mission. With his wife of 67 years, Velma, at his side, Don visited Washington, D.C. for the very first time. Along with two other USS Arizona survivors, he accepted an invitation to the White House so he could advocate for a medal for the man who saved his life. Stratton believes the late Joe George, whose daughter accompanied the survivors to the Oval Office on July 21, 2017, deserves the Navy Cross, if not the Medal of Honor. Watch the video from C-SPAN below for the full comments from their brief visit with President Donald Trump.
“Thank you very much for your lifetime of service,” President Trump said to Stratton and Bruner. “And for your lifetime of sacrifice.”
The second veteran we hear from is Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya, who survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in July, 1945. “The thing that saved me is the blanket I had on,” Celaya can be heard explaining in episode #486 of Hometown Heroes, which came in the wake of the sunken ship’s August 2017 discovery on the bottom of the Philippine Sea.
“When I woke up there was no blanket, the fire had taken it all.”
The teenager suffered burns on his hands, legs, and head, but he survived the sinking, as well as the nearly four days that followed in shark-infested waters before a pilot named Chuck Gwinn spotted the survivors. Not long after the unexpected discovery of his ship, Celaya was honored in his hometown. The Florence, AZ post office was renamed in his honor.
Leila Morrison was an Army nurse in Europe during World War II. She shared her experiences on episode #463 of Hometown Heroes,
detailing the kinds of injuries she witnessed, and the resilient spirit of those wounded veterans.
“They had a wonderful spirit, every one of them,” Morrison remembers. “They were there to win that war. They loved America.”
Watch the video above produced by the Bolder Boulder, an annual race featuring more than 50,000 runners, which culminates at the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field with a special Memorial Day tribute. Leila was one of three veterans chosen as special honorees during that tribute this year.
Purple Heart recipient George Poplin detailed his ordeal with the 2nd Infantry Division on episode #484 of Hometown Heroes.
Poplin, who suffered damage to both arms in a German mortar attack, explained his experiences on November 7 to a captivated audience of junior high and high school students at Fresno Christian Schools, where three of his great-grandsons are enrolled. You’ll hear briefly from student journalist Mariana Fikse about what she gleaned from the chance to interview Poplin, and you can read her report on the veteran’s appearance at TheFeather.com.
The 93-year-old told the students about a deal he made with God on December 24, 1944, and how he followed through on it. He also showed them the well-worn pocket Bible he carried throught his time in combat. As he was being pushed out of the auditorium in his wheelchair, satisfaction was evident in the tone of his voice as he made an observation.
“It’s not every day you get a standing ovation,” Poplin marveled.
The final update on this Veterans Day special concerns the story of Al Findley, who related his journey as a prisoner of war on episode #488 of Hometown Heroes.