No one among the groups knew where he was or what he was doing, but the woman persisted. She tracked him to the Los Angeles area, then started a phone search. When they sent me my discharge, I just stayed here. The woman helped connect Bruner with other survivors from the Arizona and Pearl Harbor. He finally found people who understood his experience.
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I still get to the point when I'm talking about it, first thing you know, I go to bed at night, wake up and can't sleep for a week. Bruner, who turned 94 in November, is now one of nine living USS Arizona crewmen who survived the ship's sinking. He has been telling his story to an author, Ed McGrath, who is working on a book and a film about Bruner's escape from a collapsing tower on the ship. The survivors' group that found him was right, he has concluded: The stories of the Arizona should not die with the men who lived them. Bruner was at his battle station in an anti-aircraft gun director, a metal box on the forward mast of the Arizona, when an armor-piercing bomb ignited the ship's powder magazine.
The fireball from the explosion engulfed the six men in the box and trapped them. A sailor on the deck of the repair ship Vestal spotted the men and threw a line across. Their skin charred and falling off, the men crawled down the line to the Vestal. Bruner was the second-to-last man to leave the sinking ship. He won't talk much about the escape, or about the men who didn't make it across. Nightmares invade his sleep when he remembers those final moments. The Solace dispatched motor boats to the Arizona to rescue wounded sailors and her crew pulled others from the water.
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Bruner was burned over more than two-thirds of his body. He had taken a bullet to the back of his leg as he was climbing the tower, but the burns were far worse. He stayed aboard the Solace about a month. He was treated there for four months. Before the war started, a hospital stay that long would have earned a sailor a discharge, but not anymore. He knew he was near release the day an officer came by and launched into a pep talk about the war and the Navy's role in it. As the war with Japan intensified, the Navy was building new warships as fast as it could. And the ships needed experienced sailors.
Bruner was put in charge of the gun batteries. The ship carried four 5-inch anti-aircraft guns and six half-inch machine guns, and, initially, five inch torpedo tubes.
The guns used the same type of control mechanisms Bruner had mastered on the Arizona. Sight-setters and pointers would locate targets visually and determine their distance and range. An electro-mechanical computer would aim the guns. Bruner looked each recruit in the eyes to determine the right job, but he wasn't testing their mettle, not yet. He wanted men with eyes set in the right place on their face. He looked for what he called medium spacing. With eyes too close or two far apart, a crewman could deliver faulty readings.
The ship was still a day away from Honolulu when the captain received new orders. The ship was to turn around and steam toward Alaska. The Japanese military had established strategic outposts in the Aleutian Islands and had its eye on Alaska.
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Japan wanted the northern Pacific to control its shipping routes and block U. The Coghlan approached the Aleutians in October, as winter was pushing fall aside. The sea turned rough, tossing the ship with foot swells, bouncing the vessel like a rubber ball in a washing machine. They were trying to replenish submarines or send smaller ships in. We'd go out and blow them up. By winter, temperatures plunged below zero. The Coghlan's crew battled just to keep the guns free of ice as they headed toward their next target.
By the time they were back, the icicles were forming again and two more guys would go out. The Coghlan supported Army landings and Navy bombing runs. In March, the crew turned back Japanese forces in the Battle of Komandorski. Late in the year, after an overhaul in San Francisco, the Coghlan returned to patrol duty off the Aleutians with a half dozen other U.
The ships encountered a Japanese fleet, two big cruisers, six destroyers, some troop ships, and engaged. We got into a run-and-gun battle. One of our cruisers, the heavy cruiser, got hit and water got into the oil.
They were dead in the water. We got as close as 5, yards, which was point-blank for those ships. We cut the torpedoes loose. The Americans stopped the Japanese ships and wiped out some of the top officers. The Coghlan turned back, almost spent. Another five minutes, Bruner figured, and they'd have run out of ammunition. Bruner and the Coghlan returned to Honolulu and finished out the war in the South Pacific. The ship accompanied General Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines and was anchored in the harbor off Nagasaki, Japan, when the second atomic bomb exploded.
Bruner toured Nagasaki in a Jeep with other Navy officers and chief mates. A few days later, the drove through the crumbling streets of Hiroshima.
The cities were in ruins. But the war was over. They said, 'You should have been dead a long time ago. He finished his stint in the Navy in Shanghai, working shore patrol the way he did back in Honolulu. He was cut loose in San Francisco and returned to Los Angeles, where he had married a girl back in late I wanted to know if you could do it for a couple of weeks. His new employer manufactured industrial refrigeration units. Bruner started as a painter, trained as a carpenter, then helped start a new sheet-metal department.
Almost three decades later, he was the plant manager, second-in-command. Three months before he would mark 30 years with the company, he was let go, bought out like a lot other older workers in those days. Bruner lives alone, in a post-war neighborhood in the far northern edges of Orange County. Trains run close enough to hear the horns during the day, but not close enough to make them a nuisance.
An avocado tree grows in the backyard. Bruner's neighbor, who has become a close friend and a source of transportation, picks the fruit to keep it from rotting on the ground.
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Long a bachelor again, Bruner has also entertained lady friends from time to time. Bruner keeps mementos of his time on the Arizona in the sitting room. Framed medals. Photos of the ship and other survivors at reunions in Honolulu. A sign over the arched door marks the room as "Captain's Quarters. Now, Bruner prepares for his next trip in the Captain's Quarters.
He will meet three other survivors in Hawaii for their last reunion. He looks forward to his time with the guys from his years in the Navy. I even had a couple of dates with girls. He doesn't need to say which Saturday night by now. We were going to have a date the next day.
Lonnie Cook was born in this rural town south of Tulsa, not long after it was founded as a stop on the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railway. Only a few hundred people lived there then. Today, the population can almost reach 1, when everyone is home. Cook enlisted in the Navy in and was assigned to the USS Arizona, one of the largest battleships in the fleet with a crew that, at full complement, numbered more than 1, About a year after he boarded the ship, he ran into a young recruit named Clyde Williams, a fellow from Okmulgee, Okla.
All those sailors from all those places and here was a guy who was practically a neighbor. Then we had to go back. On the morning of Dec. Williams was on deck, tuning up to play for colors, an early call after the previous day's fleet Battle of the Bands on shore. Cook made it off alive.
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