USS Arizona Survivor Lauren Bruner Interment Ceremony

USS Arizona Survivor Lauren Bruner’s sunset interment ceremony as part of the 78th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Remembrance Commemoration, December 7, 2019. The honor of interment aboard USS Arizona is reserved only for surviving crew members of the December 7, 1941 attacks. Bruner is the 44th and final survivor to join his shipmates within the memorial. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cole C. Pielop)

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Ladies and gentleman, we’re filling the last seats and we are also just a little, few minutes away from the live feed going out so we can actually get that time perfectly within a few minutes. Thank you so much for your patience. Just a few rules of the road today. We ask that if you are taking pictures with your cellphone, please do not stand and please do not take video, not that we don’t want you to take video, it’s that you’ll have to stand for that and we wouldn’t want that to block anybody and take away from this very sacred occasion. Thank you. We’re gonna do a test. Can you hear me in the back? Just raise your hand. Very good. Thank you. Thank you, Jay. Good evening. I would like to welcome you to the internment of Lauren Bruner, fireman third class at the time. When Lauren Bruner left us, it was on a Tuesday, September 19th, 2019. He was 98. Today, there are just three surviving members, who are left aboard the Arizona and made their way to safety and life. These three are Don Stratton, Colorado Springs, 97 years old, Lou Counter, who sits among us, 98 and Ken Potts, 98. When Don Stratton got the news that Lauren had passed, he said, “We are heartbroken”. In reflection, Stratton commented, “Lauren was always quick with a laugh “and had a smile that would brighten an entire room.”. In a 2014 interview with Arizona Public Radio, Bruner recalled that infamous day, in which he was called to general quarters as it sounded over the loudspeaker and he raced up to the ships main deck when the attack had begun. He said, “It was common in that Bruner ran “to his battle station, but a Japanese zero aircraft “fixed his sights on him”, Stratton recalled, “it was a terrifying moment, a blast from his guns “and bullets bit the metal, one of those shots struck flesh, “hitting the back of Lauren’s lower leg. “He leapt onto the sky platform with a trail of blood “following him. “At 8:06, the Battleship Arizona was hit “with a 17060-pound bomb from 10000 feet. “Japanese planes flying at formation “over a Battleship rouge were now finding their targets. “That bomb went crashing through the starboard side deck, “between torrents number one and two and down three levels “into the ship, igniting the forward powder magazine “in a horrific explosion.”. Lauren recalled, “It blew the hell out of everything, “it just lifted the ship nearly 30 feet or more “off the water”. Bruner said in the 2014 interview, “It was one hell of a fire”. That experience left Bruner traumatized and for decades, he suffered from nightmares, visions of dead bodies and memories of the stench of burning human flesh. Several crew members were stranded amid the smoke and fire that was quickly consuming the Arizona. Among these men was Lauren Bruner, Donald Stratton, Harold Kuhn, Russell Lott, Earl Riner and Alvin Dvorak. They escaped death by graveling hand over hand, 70 feet above the ship on a rope that had been thrown by Joe George from the USS Vestal. Unfortunately, Dvorak would die later from his wounds. Lauren himself had burned over 70% of his body. He was taken to the hospital ship, USS Solace, and transferred to a mainland hospital later, where he recovered after months of care. “The horrors of what I witnessed on that morning “have kept me from sleep for many years.”, Lauren recounted. He also left me with a statement, “At that moment in my life, I chose to face the future “and not let my past dictate what might be ahead.”. At this time, I would call Admiral Aquilino for his comments.

Good afternoon. It is a wonderful afternoon and I am absolutely honored to be able to take part in this solemn ceremony and send our ship mate to his final resting place. It is nothing more fitting then for us to honor Lauren today on this amazing day. I tell you, I came out to Arizona this morning. The seas are calm, the water was calm and it was a surreal moment and I have a feeling Lauren helped us out that day, so this is so special. There’s a few people that have to be welcomed today. Mr. Secretary, I see you there. Thank you very much for coming out. The Secretary of Interior is responsible for this wonderful memorial that we get to visit each and every day. Mr. Danforth, thank you sir for sharing your family with us. Max and Sheila Calison, thank you as well and Lou, always good to see you my friend and you honor us with your presence, each and every time. Admiral Ponds is a good friend who’s here and Admiral Sam Cox, the Director of the Navy Historical Society is here. Thank you very much for your service. Lauren’s an American hero and he is returning to the place where it started 78 years ago for him. In the Navy today, we talk about honor, courage and commitment. I can think of no one, well before we’ve described in the Navy our focus of honor, courage and commitment, Stacy Wordsell described that Lauren was so far ahead of his time. Everything you will hear about him commits directly to his honor, courage and commitment to our nation. When the bombs started falling, like so many shipmates, he didn’t run away, he ran towards the fire, racing up to manage 50 caliber station on the port side. He was one of the few to survive. Trapped as flames sat next to the ship, wounded by enemy gunfire and suffering burns as described. He was not gonna give up. He was the kind of man, the kind of sailor and the kind of American that we in the Navy try to emulate everyday. Guts, fight, toughness. In the opening moments of World War II, this ship set the standard that all of us hope to continue to meet. I am a believer in the adage, that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it and that’s what Lauren did on that day. As we know, he was the second to last to leave and it is truly fitting that he will be the last to go back to the ship. It’s also very noteworthy that even after the tremendous damage that the Navy took, that the nation took and that he personally took, he stayed to continue the fight. Eight more battles. His heroism didn’t stop, it just got him stronger. He fought again in the Aluetions, Washoe, Tarangnan, Tinian, Saipan, in places where his toughness, determination and dedication to duty, service standard through every cell then and now. We heard about Lauren’s struggle after he left the Navy, but I could make the argument that his heroism continued. He suffered anguish and then surpassed it, all the way to the point where he told his story for the rest of us to read it and that’s true courage. Today, our nation is challenged. Great power competition is here and here for a while and we must be ready for whatever might occur. 78 years ago, Lauren was ready and it’s obvious that a man of his character would be the last to leave his ship. Now, his lifelong campaign to ensure his Navy and his nation never forgets, that will endure. In deciding he would rest the terminal to the Arizona, he told a reporter he was hoping he would come back so that people would come and visit him and I think he will get his wish. This internment and these hallow waters today cement his lasting legacy and his example for the rest of the United States Navy. His standard is one for all Americans to know, understand and to attempt to strive to meet. May God look over Chief Bruner, all those who are deployed today, gone above and under the sea, protecting our freedoms and I really want to thank you for letting me be a part of this wonderful ceremony. Thank you all.

Thank you, Admiral. One of the benefits of serving in command here is to be a part of internment at one point or another. We never know when they come, but at the time, Admiral Ponds was here as Admiral and is obviously going to be invited to be a part of the ceremony. The family members and the caretakers of Lauren Bruner are honored today to have had a part of this.

Thank you. Thank you, David. Aloha!

[Audience] (in unison) Aloha.

It’s good to be back here on the island of Oahu. I’ve been onboard the Arizona for many occasions and this one is no different, because every time I’ve been onboard the Arizona it has been a celebration. There is no reason for you to be sullen. There is no reason for you to be sad or even sullen. When you look at the picture to my left, that is the Lauren that I met, that is the Lauren that we know and that is the Lauren that we hold in our hearts dearly for the rest of our lives. So please, smile because Lauren had a smile and I characterize it as, not a smile but a grin, a grin that would just draw you in. It made friends feel like family, that he’s known you all his life, even if he’s only known you for five minutes. That’s just the kind of person that he was. I met Lauren, June 6th– as is they like to call me. That day was a living hell. He had a way with words. That day was a living hell. But he said to me also, in a similar refrain, “It should not and will not ever happen again.”. I said, “How do you know that Lauren?”. “It’s because my ship links and your ship links, “they’ve got the watch.”. So after we met, Lauren and I would attend each others events. I’d go to his birthday parties and I’d go to his house or we’d just make a phone call and Ed would answer, Ed Hoskin, and say, “Hey Freddie, how you doing?”, I said, “How you doing Ed?” and we’d chit chat and he’d either say, “Here is Lauren” or he’d say, “Lauren is not feeling that well to talk today.”. I wasn’t disappointed because I was just glad that on the other end, my friend Lauren was there. Lauren came and attended my chains of command in our retirement center home. My family got to know him and embrace him and he got to know them and embrace my family, especially my wife. Now, when I first met Lauren, he was just love to me but after he met my wife, he would just zoom past me or look past me to get to my wife because Lauren had an affection for lovely ladies and if even of you out there knew Lauren, you would’ve gone, “Mm, yep”. And it’s okay, that means you had a life well lived and you’re not afraid of your past. Lauren never ran from his past, he actually ran to it, he embraced it and he shared it with others and that’s what he did with me. As he would share stories with me, I would think, here’s a young man who had just turned the tender age of 21 years old and on that morning, he was confronted of the sights, the sounds and the smell of death and devastation. I am certain it is something he never forgot and after he told me that story, I’m sure he told that to his family on many occasions, they too never forgot. But there’s something about a past like that, when you share it with loved ones, it makes it more easier to come to closure with. It’s a heavy burden and no one should have to carry that burden alone and because you are here today, he is rest assured that he did not, should not and will not carry that burden. Lauren’s legacy is alive and well and all of us and each of you, the last thing he would want you to do is to stop talking about him, the brave men and women, the soldiers and civilians and airmen and coast guards and marines that serve today because if there was one thing that Lauren looked forward to, that he’d rely on, that he had faith in, it was family and the youth that dawn the cloak of our nation. So Lauren loved the Navy and he loved our nation but more importantly, he loves and loved all of us. The last thing I will say is this, my grandmother had a saying and this holds true, every time I saw Lauren I would think of this. She lived to be the tender age of 95 and she would look at me and she would say, when we saw an older person or an elderly person that was sort of leaned over from age, she would say, “Frankie”. That was my nickname and only she could call me.

She said, “The leaning tree is not always the first to fall”. “The leaning tree is not always the first to fall”. So continually lift each other up, carry each other in your hearts and minds and souls and spirits and let’s continue to move forward this legacy that we are left with here today. And finally, just one more comment. I had the opportunity to dive on Arizona before I left. It was a very intimidating event but it wasn’t fighting. It was a surreal moment. When I was down there, beneath the surface, I could feel the spirits and ghosts that died there, that were left there and that were interned and I had this sense of, if you’re never gonna see it and you went to the folks (background noise drowns out voice) early in the morning, before the sun rises and it’s just you, your thoughts and your maker, you have these inner thoughts and they are so sincere and so real and so emotional, and that’s the feeling that I had the day I dove on Arizona. I want to thank the National Parks Service for allowing me to have that experience. It is one that I will never, ever forget. So God bless Lauren Bruner and God bless America, the country that he so dearly loved. Thank you.

Our next remarks will be by Superintendent Jacqueline Ashwell.

Aloha. I mean Aloha both in the sad sounds, hello, good evening and also with all the warmth and love that word comes with. Thank you all for gathering here in Lauren’s memory. I spoke this afternoon to the Stratton family and with Joann Taylor, (background noise drowns out voice) they’re gathered together in Colorado Springs watching us. I wish they could be here tonight but I’m glad that they’re together watching, they’re here with us. I have to keep my remarks brief because we are losing light but nevertheless, I will take a moment to share two things. One personal, and one actual reason of why I am up here as an official of the United States Government. We’ve heard a lot about Lauren and his incredible bravery, everything he went through, here at this place. Everything he did after Pearl Harbor but he’s also just an absolutely warm and loving person, just big teddy bear. Just a friend and you’re right, and an incredible friend and he just filled you with warmth. And I remember, by the way, Admiral Ponds, your advice, to just not be sad, it’s not working for me.

And I remember on the day that I found out that Lauren died, I called Lou. Lou also tried to cheer me up, he did a pretty good job actually. You’re right, Lauren wouldn’t want us to be sad, Lou doesn’t want us to be sad. I know that I think about Lauren a lot, particularly because I live within walking distance of this union bar in downtown and every time I walk by I think about him and I can tell you that I’m going to be taking some time off soon and I told my husband we’re going in there and we’re gonna sit and have a couple of beers. Probably not tonight, it could be tonight, we could go afterward but that was his watering hole, back in the days when he was on the Arizona and it’s sad, it’s a good place, I can see why he liked it there and they still have a table for him and it touches me every time I go in. But as for official comments that I have to make, it is a profound honor for us to be here and to host this event this evening for you, for your family, for Lauren and I promise you that as long as there is a flag that flies over this memorial, for as long as there is a United States of America and a National Parks Service, we will continue to tell the story of Lauren and all of his ship mates. That will endure. Thanks.

Our next speaker is Kelsea Holbrook. No, come on Kelsea, it’s all right, you need to come up here. You can polish this, I know you can.

So I will keep this brief because we need to get out on the water for the divers before it gets dark. My name is Kelsea and I had the chance to be Lauren’s ranger over the years. We were both raised in small logging towns in Washington state, less than 20 miles apart. Of course, our paths didn’t cross until seven decades later, when we met here at Pearl Harbor visitor center. I loved being revealed by his stories of youthful adventures in the Pacific Northwest, like meeting a baby bear on Mount Rainer. I didn’t like hearing that one. Or the short lead antics on the USS Arizona was docked back home in Riverton. Stories that were always accompanied by his (background noise drowns out voice) chuckle. I’m here today to honor him and the legacy that his service will forever carry here at Pearl Harbor National Memorial and for myself, in my own heart. This incredible man will forever connect me and all of us to this place. It’s very clear that Lauren touched many, many lives, indicated by all of you here today, who have traveled from across the United States of America to honor his return to his fellowship. To all that are joining us today from afar, we wish aloha, spirit, thank you so much for coming and for honoring Lauren together. Thank you.

Hello. Lou Conter is coming to the podium, assisted by a very able and frugally young darling. They didn’t want to speak and knock it out of the park.

I’m just gonna say a few words. Lauren was a great friend, he was a great sailor and a great ship mate and when he was injured in Pearl Harbor, Lauren went to the hospital. He fought to get back to union, to go to war, to help the United States. Lauren and I were good friends. I used to talk to him once a month until he got real sick last year. I want to say something. I think the one that’s gonna lose the most of our talents and everything is (mumbles)

I’d like to see everyone get a copy of Lauren’s book. It’d help me (mumbles). “The Second to the Last to Leave”. I just completed it for the second time last week. It’s the most true explanation of a sailor that I have ever read. You can read that book and you can live in three or four chapters in the center of downtown (mumbles) and Liberty. I hope you have the liberty, like he had before, in heaven. Lauren and I were close. He is rather a (mumbles) and July and Lauren would be in September. We’ve done three now (mumbles) and he’s (mumbles) he’s in bed, he’s been talking and I talked to Don’s friend (mumbles).

I want to thank you all for coming. I’ll tell you that Lauren was a great ship mate and a great sailor and a great American. Thank you very much.

Today, this internment marks the 44th that has taken place. It would be irresponsible for me not to mention how the National Parks Service and myself has brought me to this ceremony. There was an old Navy (mumbles) that I got to know. His name was Joe Taylor. Over a decade ago, with the National Parks Service moving forward in its program, taking optimum care of this memorial, he taught and brought me along to know the rules of engagement in internment. Now, Jim Newman has stepped also into that place. A valuable partnership between the Navy and the Parks Service is bonded by this ceremony and the ceremonies we saw today spread around, after the December 7th congregation is new testimony to that partnership. I would like to also say getting to know the families is always the special part. Admiral Ponds had mentioned getting to know Lauren Bruner but there was always other people that were connected to that veteran and since you see a family that came here not long ago, when the son was too ill to come along, the granddaughter came and the grandkids. This internment, which has been labeled as the last internment, will be the last to go in, as far as we know at this time but everyday, the thousands that come to this memorial will go into that room and see those that were interned and see those that lost their lives on that fateful day and ask them questions. Well hey, they wanted to go back to the ship. And remember one thing as we get ready for the committal, that Lou called me, he had signed his papers and almost apologizing that he changed his mind, that he wanted to be with his wife and that is that personal decision that makes this special and makes people like Lou and Don Stratton all of them that new testimony of what happened here, their voices will ever hear long after we are gone. I now ask the Chet Edmund to come forward please.

Family and friends. We have gathered together today to honor the reprisals of the soul of Lauren Bruner and honor his service and to the Bruner family, grateful Navy, grateful president and a grateful nation wishes to show our deepest gratitude and offer our deepest condolences. Let us pray. Heavenly father, we thank you for this day because this is a day that you have made and we will rejoice and be glad in it and lord, you made today a day of remembrance to remind all of us of all the service members and civilians who gave their lives for the defense of our nation on December 7th. Lauren Bruner was one of those men so lord, we ask that your spirit be with us and to prepare our hearts, honor our words and lift up our actions as we commit this man to the deep and place his body at rest with his ship mates and as your most holy name that we pray, amen. Praise our Lord, Jesus Christ, when asked by the disciples how should they pray, he said pray like this and this is the Lord’s Prayer if you would like to pray along with me. Our father, who art in heaven, hallow be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not to temptation but deliver us from evil, for that is the kingdom, the power and glory forever. Amen.

We will now begin the procession of internment. I ask that Admiral Aquilino, Admiral Ponds, Sheila Calison, Max Calison, Chet Danforth and son, and Kelsea Holbrook join me here.

[Woman] Attention. And salute.

Ladies and gentleman, if you could please retake your seats, thank you.

Attention on deck. Flight for the detail arriving.

Up down, hut. Halt. Center, eight. (helicopter drowns out voice) Ready, front. Barriers, stunt. Places, place. Forward march.

At this time, we ask family members, Admiral Aquilino, Superintendent Ashwell, Admiral Ponds, Kelsea Holbrook to join us here to go to the unveiling of the name of the shrine.

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