Lauren Bruner, 98, died Tuesday, September 10, 2019, in California. He was one of the last four survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona by Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.
Bruner was the second to last sailor to leave the sinking USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. He had joined the Navy in 1938 after graduating from high school in the same year. He was serving as a fire controlman on the ship at that time when Japanese planes flew very near to Arizona’s deck and started dropping bombs.
This 21-year-old fire controlman third class was in charge of the ship’s 50-caliber guns and was one of the last few crewmen to escape Arizona sank, which leaves only three crewmembers: Don Stratton, 97, Lou Conter, 98, and Ken Potts, 98 to be the only crewmen among the 337 men who survived the Japanese onslaught on the battleship, which is now present at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
Bruner also authored a book about his experiences titled: “Second to Last to Leave the USS Arizona.” Recalling the attack in 2014 in an interview with Arizona Public Radio, Bruner shared that he could see the Japanese pilots grinning as they flew so closely while bombing. Four bombs hit Arizona and “with each explosion, Arizona shook like a dog shedding water”.
Bruner expressed a wish at a 2014 news conference that when he dies, he should be cremated instead of burial and his ashes be interred in Arizona’s sunken hull at the site of the USS Arizona Memorial. Any service member who was aboard the Arizona when it was attacked is granted the honor to make such a wish.
Bruner also shared in the same conference the reason why he wants this particular end: “All my family and friends have been buried in various places, cemeteries. But it seems like, after a while, nobody pays attention to them anymore after about five years. I hope that a lot of people will still be coming to Arizona. I would be glad to see them.”
Recalling the attack in 2014 in an interview with Arizona Public Radio, Bruner shared that he could see the Japanese pilots grinning as they flew so closely while bombing. Four bombs hit Arizona. Bruner and five others escaped the stranded sinking ship to a nearby repair ship, the USS Vestal by grappling for 70 feet on a rope.
Bruner suffered burns on over 70 percent of his body but after he recovered, he was later assigned to the USS Coghlan. He participated in eight main engagements in the Aleutian Islands and also in seven operations in the South Pacific. He retired from the Navy in 1947.
Bruner was well-known at the visitor center because he had visited Pearl Harbor many times over the years. “My Dream Gift to America”- a fundraiser was also launched by Bruner. It is a campaign to create a touchscreen kiosk at the Arizona Memorial which lets the public to see a portrait and biographical information on all 1,512 crew members of the battleship. Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation was also established by Bruner to honor his fellow crew members, assist memorial projects and help military families.
With his passing, only three crewmen from the USS Arizona are still alive: Donald Stratton of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Lou Conter of Grass Valley, California and Ken Potts of Provo, Utah. Donald Stratton, born in 1922, graduated in 1940 and enlisted in the United States Navy. After the recovery following the Pearl Harbor attacks, Stratton joined Navy again and was commissioned to the destroyer USS Stack. He served in the Pacific at the naval campaigns for New Guinea, the Philippines, and Okinawa from 1944 to 1945. Lou Conter, born in 1921, joined the U.S. Navy in 1939 after high school. He was on duty on the USS Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Kenn Potts, born in 1921 is from a humble background. He joined the Navy in 1938. He sailed from San Pedro, California, on board Arizona in December 1939. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Kenn Potts was ashore. He was loading fruits and vegetables for the crew but he returned to the ship climbed aboard to help evacuate wounded sailors.