Written by Donald Stratton, Ken Gire
This is a book that should be on everyone’s reading list. Is it the best book I’ve ever read? No. But it is an incredible, inspiring story. That’s why I gave it four stars. I’m stunned that Stratton is the first survivor of Pearl Harbor to write a book. And sadly, we’re are almost to a point where will no longer be able to hear directly from any of the “gallant men” from this Greatest Generation.
The last ghostwritten autobiography I read was American Sniper. I thought the ghostwriter did a pretty poor job of telling the story, and that he was luck that it was such an incredible story. I had no such problem here. Ken Gire did a phenomenal job. The story was seamless, and you really felt that it was told by Stratton. Only rarely were you reminded that it was ghostwritten, and they were passages that were reminiscent of the 2015 Cinderella movie where the phrase “have courage and be kind” was repeated every 5 seconds. Even then, it wasn’t that bad.
I believe every American child should watch these movies: Tora! Tora! Tora! Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Saving Private Ryan. Blackhawk Down. The Patriot. Glory. 12 O’clock High. Memphis Belle. We Were Soldiers. Unbroken. American Sniper. Lone Survivor. 13 Hours. Amistad. 12 Angry Men.
I believe every American child should read these books: D-Day by Stephen Ambrose. Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. American Sniper by Chris Kyle. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. Devotion by Adam Makos. 1776 by David McCullough. Ernie’s War by Ernie Pyle. The Race Beat by Gene Roberts. A Chaplain’s Duty by Gayle Knapp. Grapes fof Wrath by William Faulkner. And about a bazillion more.
All the Gallant Men should be added to the reading list. Fair warning – I’m about to get on my patriotic soapbox here. But, y’all. We are so incredibly fortunate to have been born into this world in this country. We have freedoms unparalleled in history and in this world.. And I think that too few of us appreciate that because we also seem to live in a world that feels the need to apologize for what we have or acts ashamed of it. Or, worst of all, casts it aside as unimportant The reason my viewing and reading lists are so extensive (and, trust me, those lists are just the tipping point) is that their content matters. We get to have the debates, and act “cool” about what we have, because of those who came before us. Donald Stratton is one of those, and his sacrifice will make you think twice about treating your blessings lightly.
Stratton grew up in the Great Depression. He joined the Navy more because of a fascination with the sea than as an escape from the poverty of his childhood. In fact, his childhood appears to be more of a fact of his life than a hardship to overcome. But he joined the Navy and was assigned to the USS Arizona. He was on duty on the USS Arizona on the morning of December 7, 1941, and lived to tell the tale. It is a tale that we know, but told by a survivor, it resonates on a level that is unparalleled in my experience.
I wasn’t actually that engaged or awed by his description of the morning of December 7. I think I’ve been so inundated by pictures and movies and History Channel documentaries that it took a while for it to resonate. The best way I can describe it is that it was like visiting Dachau concentration camp. It didn’t affect me very much on the day I read its description, but as the hours and days and weeks went by, it began to haunt me more and more.
Stratton gives such detailed reminiscences of the people that he knew. He remembers some of their names. He forgot some of them. But he brings them alive. It was odd. His experience on December 7th almost seemed like a movie. So I thought, “wow!”, but it didn’t really affect me. Instead, he brought to life the people around him. And every death, every life, every effort to fight back or to rescue someone resonated on a deep level. But I think that is how Stratton actually felt – that his life wasn’t what mattered.
As the story progressed, the events of December 7 gained greater import. You felt their impact on Stratton, on his friends, and on the world around him. I imagine that isn’t unlike what the world felt at the time. He referenced events like September 11th, and that helped to bring it home to someone who wasn’t alive for Pearl Harbor. You felt his anger, his sense of duty, and his sorrow. I wanted to protect him. I wanted comfort him. I wanted to tell him that I felt his sorrow and that it still matters.
I think what was most powerful about this book was its sense of understated duty. This is a character trait that I don’t think even Stratton knows he possesses. But he, to this day, asks if he has lived a life worth saving. He references a line in Saving Private Ryan that is similar late in the book, but having seen the movie, I already made the connection. What I found remarkable about this is that is clearly a question that many WWII veterans asked themselves. It is a question that underscores the importance of their generation to world. These men and women sacrificed so much. And they would do so again. All they asked is that we make sure that it matters.
Read this book. Please. Honor the service and sacrifice of Donald Stratton and his brothers.