Donald Stratton was an 18-year-old from Red Cloud, Neb., when he joined the Navy in 1940 — and found himself on the front lines of history.
Hours after dawn, on Dec. 7, 1941, Seaman 1st Class Stratton stood aboard the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii, when Japan launched its aerial attack. He was just 500 feet away from where a bomb hit the ship.
So relentless was the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that in just two hours 2,403 Americans were killed. Stratton would have been among the 1,177 USS Arizona shipmates — out of 1,511 aboard — who perished if not for a nail-biting escape to a neighboring ship.
Now 94, he resides in Colorado Springs, Colo., with his wife of 66 years (they have five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren).
As the 75th anniversary of the bombing nears, Stratton tells his epic story in the memoir “All the Gallant Men” (William Morrow, out Tuesday) — and shares it with The Post’s Michael Kaplan.
The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, seemed like any other. We worked out a little bit and ate chow. I grabbed a few oranges to bring to a buddy of mine who was in the sick bay. Then I walked out onto the deck and saw some sailors congregating on the ship’s starboard side. They were looking across the water at Ford Island, an islet in the center of Pearl Harbor, and they were hollering — planes with the Japanese Zero insignia were banking through the sky.
“Oh, hell, it’s the Japanese!” somebody shouted. “They’re bombing the water tower on Ford Island.”
We watched the tower fall and planes on the runway over there burst into flames.