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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

WWII veteran shares story of USS Arizona bombing

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Grace Pierson
Grace Pierson / The Daily Wildcat USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner rings the bell on Thursday afternoon in the tower of the Student Union Memorial Center. The bell is one of the few remnants from the USS Arizona, and Bruner had the chance to touch and ring the bell after so many years. As Bruner sits back down and relays the experience, he exclaims “That was awesome”.

A collection of photographs, documents, menus and newspapers from the USS Arizona in the 1930s and 1940s was laid out on tables in the UA Main Library’s Special Collections area Thursday morning.

Lauren Bruner walked around the tables, his left hand shaking as he held himself up with a cane and pointed at the photographs, remembering his time on the ship.

Hanging from a pocket on his white collared shirt is a Purple Heart medal with a star pinned on it. On the shirt are drawings of battleships, one of them the USS Arizona.

“It was like getting back in the Navy again for a change,” Bruner said, “After, what, 70 some years?”

Bruner visited the UA on Thursday to see the Special Collections’ USS Arizona artifacts and took a tour of the Student Union Memorial Center, which is named and designed after the USS Arizona. He also sat before an audience of more than 50 students and community members and told stories of his time in World War II and of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Bruner was getting ready for a church service when he heard sirens indicating they were being attacked. Bruner made his way up 86 feet to the top of the ship. As he got to the director’s station, a bullet hit his leg, he said.

As a director on the ship, Bruner’s job was to spot the enemy.

Ignoring the wound on his leg, Bruner got to his station and watched an aerial bomb drop to the second turret of the USS Arizona. The bomb then fell to the first turret and exploded at the bottom of the ship.

Despite 70 percent of his body being burned, Bruner was able to leave the ship alive, said Ed McGrath, Bruner’s friend who also spoke at the event. McGrath is a documentary filmmaker who is working on a documentary about Bruner’s life.

Bruner spent seven months in the hospital being treated for his burns. One day before he was supposed to be released from military duty, the Navy assigned him to a new ship, the Destroyer USS Coghlan.

“He was there at the beginning and he was there when they retired the ship,” McGrath said. “They [USS Coghlan crew members] were in eight of the greatest naval battles of World War II.”

Bruner and McGrath also shared stories about Bruner going on double dates with his best friend from high school in Long Beach, Calif., who was also placed on the USS Arizona as a crew member and about some of the World War II battles while on the Coghlan.

Natasha Crawford, chair of the UA Veterans Alumni Club, said it was a privilege to be able to hear some of Bruner’s stories.

“He’s such a humble man,” Crawford said. “To him what he did was, that was his job, his duty. But to some of us it’s so amazing to hear the stories. I just got goose bumps.”

David Ross, a nursing junior who’s part of the veteran’s office work study program, said listening to Bruner talk about his experience added a personal element to his visit to the USS Arizona Memorial last winter.

“We don’t have a lot of them [World War II veterans] left to tell these stories,” Ross said. “It’s just a rare opportunity.”

People in their 20s sometimes approach Bruner and ask him what happened at Pearl Harbor, he said. By telling his stories, Bruner said he helps keep history alive.

“I think the new children, they should know what went on,” Bruner said, “but they don’t teach that in school anymore.”

Bruner said the highlight of his visit to campus on Thursday was being able to ring the bell that was on the USS Arizona in 1941.

“It’s been a terrific privilege to be here,” Bruner said, “For me to get to ring the bell, that’s something else.”

— Follow Stephanie Casanova @_scasanova_

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