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Remaining USS Arizona Survivors Hold 'Final Toast' to Shipmates - Vistors enter the USS Arizona Memorial during the 73rd anniversary Pearl Harbor Day commemoration ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West Detachment Hawaii

PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- On the afternoon of Dec. 7, four of the nine remaining USS Arizona survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack - John Anderson, Lauren Bruner, Louis Conter and Donald Stratton - arrived to USS Arizona Memorial for their final reunion.

This historic event marked the end of an era for the USS Arizona survivors, all aged in their 90s, who have announced that this was the final, official gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Association.

Despite the official announcement, the men still plan to get together, regardless of the location.

"I don't think this is going to be our last [meeting]," said Louis Conter, 93. "We still have time to go, so I think we'll be back out here no matter whether the rest of the crowd can make it or not."

While at the memorial, the survivors poured a "final toast" to their shipmates, drinking from original champagne glasses from the USS Arizona. They shared a bottle of wine - a gift from President Gerald Ford to the association presented in 1975. According to survivors, this final salute symbolized the brotherhood and sacrifice of the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor 73 years ago.

After the toast, the survivors handed one of the glasses to a team of Navy and National Park Service divers who placed it at the base of the Arizona's gun turret four. Gun turret four serves as the final resting place for survivors of the attack who wish to have their ashes placed at their former battle station. Since 1980, 38 Arizona survivors have been reunited with their fellow shipmates on the ship.

"The good Lord saved just a few of us," shared Donald Stratton, 92, who was one of the survivors of a gun director in the forward part of the ship and sustained severe burns during the attack, which required hospitalization lasting for more than a year. "So terrible, terrible day," Stratton remembered.

Conter shared his thoughts on the event and the honor he felt to be by his ship, among the fellow Sailors.

"It was amazing for the four of us," said Conter. "I think we all felt the same, an honor to toast the 1,177 shipmates that we had and who died that day. And the glass, which is now interred there [gun turret four], will give us a chance to have something to drink out of when we're buried there."

For more news from Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnrh/.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Laurie Dexter
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