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USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner comes to UA

Rebecca Noble
at Special Collections on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016.

Lauren Bruner, a 95-year-old World War II veteran and survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, returned to the UA campus on Sept. 16 to view the Special Collections’ exhibit, “The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona.” He was also presented the plans for the USS Arizona memorial that will be constructed on the UA Mall.

The memorial and exhibit were made in remembrance of the 1177 shipmates Bruner lost while serving on the USS Arizona during the 1941 attack. Some of the items currently on display at the Special Collections exhibit include photographs, signed documents and clothing of the fallen crew members.

“It’s like coming back home again,” Bruner said.

Trent Purdy is a co-curator for the collection and has been working with it for over two years. He said all the materials in the collection were donated by men who served on the ship or by their families. In recent years collectors of items from the Pearl Harbor attack have gotten word of this exhibit and also donated to it, according to Purdy.

READ: UA’s Navy ROTC tours new USS Arizona exhibit

“It’s really important to us because it shows that they see us as good stewards of these materials, to preserve them and make them available to researchers,” Purdy said. “[Bruner] came last year and he’s come here several times, but it was always kind of my dream to have one of the survivors come and view this exhibit…there’s only six of them left.”

Bill Westcott, who lost his uncle on USS Arizona and now serves on the UA’s Library Advancement Board, gave the presentation to Bruner about the details of the USS Arizona mall memorial.

“I’m here to pay back, and help out,” Westcott said. “The memorial is a full-scale outline of the USS Arizona laid inside the curb of the grassy mall—stretching 600 feet long and 100 feet wide, running from the steps of Old Main to the Desert Garden.”

The memorial on the Mall will be the largest USS Arizona memorial in existence once it is completed besides the actual ship itself, according to Westcott. He said his hope is that the memorial will serve as an everyday reminder of the men who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor and also of the men and women still sacrificing their lives today “to keep America and the world free from tyranny.”

“Teaching, learning and sacrificing—what could be more emblematic of Wildcat spirit?” Westcott said.

The Special Collections archive for the exhibit also partnered with Arizona Athletics for the 75th anniversary of the attack to extend the remembrance of the men into UA’s football game against the University of Hawaii. Bruner was be the Guest of Honor at the game, and the players wore special uniforms that commemorated the actual ship.

READ: UA exhibit gives glimpse of life on the USS Arizona, commemorates Pearl Harbor attack

“We can’t forget that they’re the ones out there competing and on any other day, they could be out there fighting,” Westcott said.

“We’re always open to different areas to collaborate with,” Greg Byrne, the UA athletic director said. “I think this has been extremely well-received by the university, by our fans, by veterans and act of duty members literally across the world.”

After the presentation of the Mall memorial, Bruner went back into the exhibit room and said why it is important that people, and especially students who may not understand the importance of his late shipmates’ sacrifice at first glance, know about how they gave their lives to preserve the freedom of everyone else’s.

“Somebody’s gonna have to tell ‘em,” Bruner said. “They gotta know that their ancestors were well-involved … and they should be proud of ‘em.”

Follow Jessica Suriano on Twitter.

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