Lauren Bruner of La Miranda, Calif., will become the last Pearl Harbor veteran to be interred at the USS Arizona Memorial. Bruner died on September 10 at age 78, and his last wish was to be buried with his shipmates in Hawaii.
There are three remaining Arizona survivors, but all have chosen to be buried with their families.
The massive battleship sank on December 7, 1941, after being hit with a bomb. About seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines blew up in a huge explosion, mostly venting through the sides of the ship and wrecking much of the interior structure of the forward part of the ship.
The Arizona sank in about 10 minutes, taking with it 1177 officers and crew. Just 335 crew members survived.
Bruner’s story of heroism and survival is not unusual.
In Colorado Springs, Colo., fellow survivors Donald Stratton, 97, and Ken Potts, 98, will watch a livestream of the event alongside the daughter of Joe George, the man who saved Stratton and Bruner when he tossed them a rope from the repair ship Vestal 100 feet away, which the men used to pull themselves to safety.
“I was there when he was strafed by a passing Japanese plane — wounded in his leg. He watched me climb across the burning water to relative safety aboard the Vestal, and I encouraged him to keep going when it was his turn to cross,” Stratton said of Bruner.
“The bonds of brotherhood are forged working side by side, but nothing connects men more than going through something like that. We were lucky, blessed, to make it out of there.”
Stratton figured in another ceremony in 2014 when he, along with three other survivors, cracked open a bottle of champagne donated by President Gerald Ford that he intended to be drunk by the last surviving member of the crew.
A bottle and two glasses had been in storage at the Arizona Capitol Museum, a gift from former President Gerald Ford intended for the last survivor of the Arizona to honor the crew.
As the years passed, the remaining survivors talked about who would care for the bottle and the glasses.
“They brought it up and said the champagne was for the last survivor,” Stratton told The Republic in 2014. “I said, ‘What the hell good is that going to do for one guy sit and drink a whole bottle of champagne because his shipmates are gone?’ I said, ‘Let’s open it now, pay tribute to our fallen comrades.'”
The champagne had gone bad, so the four men hoisted glasses of a newer vintage. Afterward, one of the glasses was taken by a diver into the gun turret to rest alongside the remains of the other crewmen.
The “Greatest Generation” didn’t become great because of superior genes or a better education system. They became great because their actions grew out of being severely tested in war and the Depression. The imprint those experiences had on their young lives shaped their own futures and the future of America.
Men like Bruner and Stratton would probably not have preferred being at Pearl Harbor in the early morning of December 7, 1941. But what they did that day, and in the days of trial that followed, will echo for an eternity.