Donald Stratton was 94 years old (now 97) when he wrote his memoir to commemorate the December 7th, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. He believed, as the quote he references says, “when a person dies, it is like a library burns down.” He wanted to preserve his memories of that day for future generations. Pearl Harbor was an attack on this nation by a country that was actively engaged in duplicitous peace talks with America’s envoys. Japan’s act of war was a sneak attack of enormous magnitude for which they would ultimately pay dearly, but so did America. The book points out not only their heinous behavior, but it also shows the naïveté of the government, during this time, when Hitler was rising to power and advancing across Europe. We were asleep at the wheel, basking in an arrogant attitude of superiority, assuming we were safe even though all the signs of this act of war were on the horizon. Had there not been failures in communication, perhaps the dead and wounded of Pearl Harbor would not have numbered so many.
Donald is a survivor of the attack that “will live in infamy”, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He carries his battle scarred body and memories with him everyday. Brought up in the Plains, poor, but faithful, he and his family were a tight knit unit with the belief that no matter what happened, G-d would provide for their welfare. Devout, they attended church in the best and the worst of times. The Sears Catalogue was their lifeline to the rest of the world, and it was through those pages that he learned what else was available to those who were better off, to those who lived elsewhere; he learned what was available to those who were not sharecroppers living basically from hand to mouth, using potato sacking for clothing and subsisting on kitchen gardens. With two younger brothers and a sister, he lived in four rooms with an outhouse. There were two bedrooms, a wood stove for cooking and a stove in the fireplace used for heat. Yet they remained content as a family unit.
The times were different then and so it seems was the outlook on life. America was loved by patriots all over the United States, and they would eagerly step up to the plate when needed for its survival. Today, times seem a bit different. Today patriotism, especially associated with nationalism, is considered a “dirty word”; our flag is often disrespected, and those who profess love for the country are sometimes called “deplorables”. After reading his book, I can only hope that when the call comes to defend our shores, there will be men and women who are as brave as he was, who will stand up for what is just and right, and who will exhibit the valorous behavior that Stratton did.
Donald’s story is one of deep devotion to his country. Even though he was gravely burned in the Pearl Harbor attack, as soon as he was able, he reenlisted and went back to fight with his “band of brothers”. His desire is to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive, as we must keep the memory of 9/11 alive, because forgetting might help to lay the groundwork for another sneak attack on our country. To me, his message affirms and asserts that we must be prepared, and we must be ready to defend ourselves and our great nation.
The narrator of this book spoke in a measured town which conveyed the story without undue emotional involvement, therefore making the reenactment of that horrific day tolerable and comprehensible for the reader. The story of Stratton is both moving and inspiring. I hope the young adults of today, who have been coddled and brought up to expect life on a silver platter, will be up to the task if it ever arises.