Pearl Harbor Hero Posthumously Awarded The Bronze Star

Dec 7, 2017
Originally published on December 7, 2017 7:39 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Here's a story of a recognition long overdue. Joe George got in his fair share of trouble during his time in the Navy. He got into a lot of fights. He described himself as a big farm boy. But that rebellious spirit saved lives on December 7, 1941.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

George was stationed on the USS Vestal. It was a repair ship. And that December, it was in Pearl Harbor, working on the battleship USS Arizona.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE GEORGE: When we tied up outboard of her, she was on battleship row.

MCEVERS: She was on battle row. That's Joe George talking in a recording made in 1978. He was speaking to an oral historian.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON MARCELLO: This is Ron Marcello interviewing Joseph George for the North Texas State University oral history collection.

KELLY: Marcello asked the veteran to take him back to 1941 just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCELLO: Let's talk about that weekend of December 7.

KELLY: George said everything was routine. He'd gotten up, had breakfast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE: Sunnyside, cold, cold French fries with bacon.

KELLY: And bacon - then he went back to his bunk, and he heard somebody yell, general quarters, a call to action because the ship was in danger.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE: In fact, I jumped up, and the first thing I saw was a Japanese plane coming down.

MCEVERS: A Japanese plane coming down - the start of the attack. There was no PA system, so Joe George started to yell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCELLO: OK, so what did you do then after you had roused the rest of the crew?

GEORGE: The only thing I can say about myself that day is that - (unintelligible), believe it or not - my conscience was my guide.

KELLY: His conscience was his guide. George saw that the Arizona was engulfed in flames. It was sinking. Sailors were trying desperately to escape.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE: They were stranded all over - on the ship, and they were trying to get off. They were surrounded by fire.

MCEVERS: Donald Stratton was fighting for his life on the Arizona. He told his story for a video produced by Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD STRATTON: The deck was so hot. We couldn't hardly walk on it. And we finally a hold of a sailor aboard the USS Vestal.

MCEVERS: That sailor they got a hold of was Joe George. And somehow, he found a way to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STRATTON: Joe George through us a heaving line, which is a smaller, nine-thread line with a monkey's fist on it and a weight where you can get the line across and quite a ways across 60, 70 feet. And he probably made about three or four passes with that and finally got a line over to us. And he tied up a heavier line that we could hang onto 'cause we couldn't hang onto the smaller line.

KELLY: Stratton used that line to go hand over hand to safety. Joe George ended up saving a total of six lives that day. He was commended for what he did, but he never received a medal for it.

MCEVERS: Donald Stratton and others wanted to make sure Joe George did get a medal for it, and they've been lobbying for that to happen for years. Joe George died in 1996. But today in Pearl Harbor, his family is being presented with a Bronze Star Medal with a Combat V. The V stands for valor.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAFORM'S "LETTERS TO THE VOID")

KELLY: And we want to say thank you to the University of North Texas librarians for getting us that recording of Joe George and also to Stars and Stripes.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAFORM'S "LETTERS TO THE VOID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.