In past years, in the ship where 1,177 American servicemen lay in their memorial slumber, divers have descended dozens of times to add to their number a brother-in-arms who survived the attack but wanted to rest after death with those he outlived. The most recent Texan laid to rest there was Marine PFC Frank Cabiness, who died in 2002 in Lewisville, TX at the age of 86. His remains were interred in the gun turret of the USS Arizona in December 2011, after his family raised the money to transport his remains and travel to Hawaii for the ceremony. Cabiness’ family retains his watch from that infamous date, which stopped at 8:15 am when he hit the water to escape the burning ship. He was the 35th survivor to be interred on the actual ship. Today, that number will reach 44, and that is where it will stay.
Survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack can request to have their ashes spread on the waters there, but only survivors of the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Utah, which both sank and are still deep in the harbor, can be taken by divers and interred in their respective ships. 335 men survived the Arizona, and 44 of those have chosen to be interred here upon their deaths; in comparison, 461 survived the Utah, but only 3 have chosen it to be their final resting place.
Today, Lauren Bruner, the second-to-last man to leave the Arizona alive, will return to lie with his brothers. He passed away September 10, 2019 at the age of 98. The urn with his ashes will be returned by divers to the gun turret and placed in the well of Barbette No. Four. Meanwhile, there will be a beautiful service conducted on the USS Arizona Memorial. The service will include a committal service, interment, rifle salute, TAPS, flag presentation, and plaque presentation.
Bruner is not the last Arizona survivor to leave us, but he is the last to wish to rejoin his downed comrades. The others, Don Stratton, 97, Lou Conter, 98, and Ken Potts, 98, have all publicly announced they will be buried in family plots. Only Conter plans to attend Bruner’s interment ceremony.
So this December 7th, while it is always a “day that will live in infamy,” as FDR called it when asking for a declaration of war against Japan, is also a lesson for us as a nation. There is something utterly special about the relationship of those who served in combat together, and this ceremony highlighting the desire of men, who lived three-quarters of a lifetime past this event, to return to this place and these people demonstrates that.
Bruner struggled with the decision, ultimately deciding to be interred in Pearl Harbor only after decades of “nightmares, visions of dead bodies and memories of the stench of burning human flesh,” according to the preface of his 2017 book, Second to the Last to Leave USS Arizona. Something about his relationship with those men pulled him back to this place and made it where he wanted people to come visit him. “I hope that a lot of people will still be coming to the Arizona. I would be glad to see them,” he said when he announced his final resting place.
So today, while you are waking up your children, going to the store, raking leaves or snow, watching football or basketball, whatever you are doing on this sleepy Saturday, watch some of the footage from the ceremony at Pearl Harbor. Think about what those men suffered, both on that day and for the rest of their lives. Think about what many of them sacrificed for our country and our way of life, and how they conquered great evil. Then do something to honor them. Thank a veteran. Drop by the VFW and talk for a while with someone who served. Donate to the United Service Organizations: www.uso.org. Purchase a wreath from www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. Hold your children a little tighter and love a little stronger. Build your relationships in a way to resemble a ship where those who served want to return, even after death, to belong.