COLORADO SPRINGS – Visitors who pass through the Colorado Springs Airport can now learn about the military service of one of our local World War II veterans. A new interactive exhibit featuring stories and artifacts about Pearl Harbor Survivor Don Stratton, the USS Arizona, and her crew is now on display in the main concourse.
Stratton celebrated his 69th wedding anniversary Tuesday. He took in the exhibit with a mix of humility and humor.
“I didn’t expect anything like this, what’s it all about,” he said joking with reporters.
One of five remaining survivors who served on the USS Arizona, Stratton was badly burned in the attack. His battle station, an anti-aircraft gun, was located directly above an ammunition cache that exploded when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb. Through sheer will, Stratton pushed through the flames and pulled himself along a rope to safety aboard the neighboring USS Vestal.
Burns covered 65 percent of his body. His recovery took 10 months and he was honorably discharged. Yet, Stratton reenlisted and pushed himself through basic training to show his superiors he was able to return to the fight.
“I’m extremely grateful that my grandfather’s sacrifices for this great nation are remembered in such a great way,” said grandson Robert Stratton.
The public only recently learned of Stratton’s story while he lobbied Congress to honor the man who saved his life. Joe George was the sailor aboard the Vestal who disobeyed orders and threw a rope to the USS Arizona.
“Once December 7, 1941, was over Donald Stratton continued his fight,” said Senator Cory Gardner during a brief speech for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “His fight to recover, his fight to continue and later on to fight for recognition for the man who saved his life.”
Joe George was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star in 2017. His daughter Joe Ann Taylor said her dad never talked about the war, and she wishes he were alive to receive these honors.
“You have those regrets and yet you’re astonished to find out that your father is this true American hero.”
The non-profit Pikes Peak Heroes Legacy Committee raised the $100,000 necessary to create the exhibit through private donations. Countless historians and researchers volunteered their time to researched and write biographies of all 1,512 of the crew aboard the USS Arizona for the exhibit. The biographies can be accessed along with archival photos and videos in a touch screen panel.
The exhibit also features a relic from the USS Arizona’s superstructure donated by the US Navy. A model of the ship along with a vintage uniform and the decorations Stratton received are among the other items on display.
The exhibit will remain at the Colorado Springs Airport for the next two years.