Recently, my reading has revolved somewhat around the topic of Word War II. All the Gallant Men is one of those books, and I’d recommend it to anybody interested in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Much has been written about Pearl Harbor, but All the Gallant Men stands out as an first-hand account from Donald Stratton, a sailor from the U.S.S. Arizona who survived the attack even though his ship did not.
Stratton seeks to provide some context to Pearl Harbor, to go beyond the statistics and give the reader a glimpse of the lives lost and the men who weathered the storm of Japanese bullets and bombs. He tells of his childhood growing up in small-town Nebraska during the Great Depression. He explains why he joined the Navy, reminisces about boot camp, and describes life aboard the Arizona, both at sea and at anchor. He talks about the ship’s band, well on its way to earning the distinction of being one of the best of all the bands from the ships moored in Pearl Harbor. He describes the night of December 6, 1941. And of course, December 7, 1941. He chronicles the chaos of the attack and memorializes the actions of a sailor on another ship, who disobeyed orders in order to save Stratton and a group of survivors from the Arizona.
He also tells the tale of how Honolulu came together to help the injured. Everybody donated blood; some insisted on donating twice that day. The ladies of the night from the city’s red light district jumped in to help supplement local hospital staff in any way they could. Stratton was badly burned in the attack, and received a medical discharge after a long convalescence in various Navy facilities. He returned home after his discharge, only to re-enlist before the war’s end.
In reflecting on the attack, Stratton discusses lessons learned, and notes that the attack was fundamentally dishonorable. He also includes a section discussing the parallels between December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001.
I have purposely omitted many of the details Stratton provides about the attack, as I wish to encourage everybody to read the book for themselves. Stratton provides a perspective that can only come from somebody who was there, who survived. For this, as well as for Stratton’s service, I am grateful beyond measure.