Friday, October 20, 2017

TOP STORY >>‘Unknown Sailor’ still awaits medal


Cabot resident JoeAnn Taylor is working with two of the five remaining USS Arizona survivors to get her late father, “The Unknown Sailor” Joe George, a medal from the Navy for saving six sailors while disobeying orders during the attack on Pearl Harbor but was later commended for his action.

USS Arizona survivors Donald Stratton, 95, and Lauren Bruner, 97, are determined to get George a medal for his heroism 76 years later. The Stratton family has been working on it for 16 years. It was decades before the survivors found out it was George who threw them a rope so they could escape from a sinking ship.

Taylor, Stratton and Bruner went to the White House last summer to push for a medal for her dad. She spoke about him last week to Cabot High School American history students.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Joe George, then 26, was on the USS Vestal, a repair ship moored to the USS Arizona battleship. George was a farmer from Georgia who got a full football scholarship to Auburn University. His father would not let him take the scholarship, so George left home and joined the Navy. He was 6 feet, 200 pounds. He was a “smoker” (boxer) for the ship.

“My father was the typical sailor. He was youthful and liked to drink. He was on liberty (permission to go onshore) when he got into a bar fight. The military police brought my father back to the ship, confined for the weekend,” Taylor said.

The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,400 Americans and wounded over a 1,000. President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan the next dayand took the United States into the Second World War.

“On that calm Sunday at 7:45 a.m. general quarters was called to man the battle stations. They heard bombs going off and bullets being shot from planes. My father’s ship, the Vestal was bombed right away and went up in flames. He was helping to put out fires,” Taylor said.

She said the USS Arizona was fully loaded with a ton and half of ammunition. A huge bomb hit the middle of the Arizona. It sucked some of the fires out on the Vestal father’s ship. Most of the people on the Arizona died. They jumped off the ship into the fiery water with sharks circling.

The Arizona was leaning. Bruner, Stratton, Harold Kuhn, Russell Lott, Earl Riner and Alvin Dvork were in the ship’s director when the bomb hit.

Through a gap in the smoke, they could see George on the deck of the Vestal. They screamed, “Hey, Vestal,” and got his attention.

Taylor said her father was a knot specialist and made a “monkey fist” on the end of the rope line. The sailors were 70 feet in the air and he threw the knot to them. They made a line to the Vestal and crossed the rope hand-over-hand.

“The executive officer of my father’s ship comes along and tells him to cut the line, because their ship was going to be pulled over by the Arizona. My father would not do it and let those men die,” Taylor said.

“The sailors went to a hospital ship and my father went on with his duties. He did not get hurt, but the six sailors were not able to know who George was to thank him. He is mentioned in their memoirs as ‘The Unknown Sailor,’” she said.

Taylor said George was interviewed in 1978 for an oral history project on Pearl Harbor at the University of North Texas in Denton. It was the first time he publicly gave out his identity.

George had a 20-year career with the Navy and then worked 20 years as a rigger at the Alameda Naval Air Station on San Francisco Bay in California.

When he retired, George and his wife, Teresa, moved to Cabot in 1970. She had family who had a farm on Hwy. 89 in north Pulaski County. George died in 1996 at age 80.

Taylor moved to Cabot in 1999 to be near her mom.


In July USS Arizona survivors Bruner, Stratton and Ken Potts went with Taylor to Washington to have George recognized with a medal.

They had breakfast with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and toured the World War II Memorial. The Arizona survivors had never been to Washington.

They visited several senators’ offices for these men to tell her father’s story.

“Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was very emotional when he found out I was George’s daughter. He worked immediately on a Senate resolution to honor my father to get the Navy to take action. It is moving to hear people talk about my father,” Taylor said.

The group also went to the Pentagon and met with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Taylor said servicemen and women lined the hallways to cheer the Arizona survivors as they walked by.

The survivors also met with President Trump in the Oval Office at the White House.

“He was gracious, genuine and elegant. I feel he was genuinely interested in all of us. He said he was proud of my father and the Pearl Harbor survivors,” Taylor said.

“Joe George stopped at nothing to save these men. A well-known man who goes down in history with USS Arizona,” Trump said, according to Taylor.

The Navy has made no decision on awarding George a medal.

The USS Arizona survivors and Taylor are going back to Pearl Harbor in December for the 76th anniversary.

The World War II Foundation is making a documentary about “The Unknown Sailor.” Film crews went to Washington and recorded the visit. The film, narrated by actor Gary Sinise, is scheduled to air on PBS television on Veterans Day 2018.

American history teacher Bennie Brock said Taylor’s presentation “is a real world connection to history. The students can read it in a book, but this gives them something tangible.”