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Last USS Arizona interment slated

Navy vet’s ashes destined for sunken Pearl Harbor ship

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — On Dec. 7, 1941, then-21-year-old Lauren Bruner was the second-to-last man to escape the burning wreckage of the USS Arizona after a Japanese plane dropped a bomb that ignited an enormous explosion in the battleship’s ammunition storage compartment.

He lived to be 98 years old, marrying twice and outliving both wives. He worked for a refrigeration company for nearly four decades.

This weekend, divers will place Bruner’s ashes inside the battleship’s wreckage, which sits in Pearl Harbor where it sank during the attack 78 years ago that thrust the United States into World War II. The Southern California man will be the 44th and last crew member to be interred in accordance with this rare Navy ritual. The last three living Arizona survivors plan to be laid to rest with their families.

Bruner said he wanted to return to his ship because few people go to cemeteries, while more than 1 million people visit the Arizona each year. He also saw it as a way to join old friends who never made it off the warship.

“I thought, well, all my buddies are right here,” Bruner told The Associated Press in a 2016 interview, three years before he died in his sleep in September.

Of the 1,177 USS Arizona sailors and Marines killed at Pearl Harbor, more than 900 could not be recovered and remain entombed on the ship, which sank in nine minutes.

Sixty died on the Utah, and three have been interred there. At least one of the three living Utah survivors wants his ashes placed on his old ship.

Saturday’s public Pearl Harbor ceremony, an annual event hosted by the Navy and National Park Service, will observe a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the exact time the attack began. In all, more than 2,300 Americans died.

Bruner didn’t know who was attacking until the planes got close enough for him to see the red Rising Sun insignia on their sides. The aircraft shot at “everything in sight,” he said. Then an explosion tore through his battle station.

He tried to get off the ship, but he couldn’t jump because the oil leaking into the water below was on fire.

Bruner and several fellow shipmates shouted to a sailor on the ship moored next to the Arizona to toss over some rope. The six of them used the rope to carry themselves hand-over-hand to the USS Vestal 100 feet away.

All of them made it, becoming six of the 335 sailors and Marines on the Arizona to survive. Bruner spent months recovering from burns.

He later spoke to school groups and others about his ordeal. His friend Ed Hoeschen, who often accompanied him on these visits, said Bruner never did it for the fame and glory.

“It wasn’t about him,” Hoeschen said. “It was about (people) meeting a member of the USS Arizona. And that’s what he wanted people to remember. Just remember the men of the Arizona.”

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