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PEARL HARBOR - The last glimmer of sunset has just fallen beneath the horizon on the shore. The yellow kiss from the sun has transformed to a white glow from the bulbs that illuminate the archways of the memorial. The faint sound of waves rhythmically lapping against the shores of Pearl Harbor are interrupted by scattered sniffles and the stirring of guests in their seats. The silence is finally broken by the ring of a bell and the echo of one solitary voice, “S.M Teslow, 1982.” The bell rings once for every name on the list being read. Finally the crowd hears “L. F. Bruner, 2019.”
Lauren Bruner, the second to last Sailor to escape the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, was interred among the ship’s wreckage during a sunset ceremony held on the memorial, Dec 7.
The 98-year-old former fire controlman died Sept. 10, 2019, in California. Bruner’s passing leaves only three surviving crewmembers who were aboard the Arizona that fateful day: Don Stratton, 97, Lou Conter, 98, and Ken Potts, 98.
Bruner’s family, caretakers, friends and members of the Hawaii National Park Service (NPS) joined service members past and present to honor the legacy of and lay to rest the storied veteran.
Edward Hoeschen, neighbor and caretaker of Bruner, Kelsea Holbrook, NPS ranger, and others close to Bruner passed the ashes from the memorial platform to U.S.Navy divers waiting in the water. The deceased who have chosen interment on the sunken battleship get their urns placed in the well of gun turret four.
Only surviving Sailors that were crew members aboard the USS Arizona are given the honor to be interred within the ship once they pass.
As of Feb. 2018, 43 USS Arizona Survivors had been interred within the ship, nested on the sea floor of Pearl Harbor. Bruner makes the 44th and final. The remaining survivors intend to be buried with their families.
There was much debate for Bruner when it came to his final resting place. He ultimately chose the memorial knowing that Americans would continue to visit him daily, learn the history of the historic site and never forget what happened.
Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, and Superintendent Jacqueline Ashwell unveiled Bruner’s name that has been added to the list of names etched into the memorial’s marble walls of the Shrine Room. The wall displays more than 1,700 names of the Sailors entombed inside the ship and those who have been interred.
Once the attacks started on the morning of Dec. 7, Bruner raced up to the ships main deck. He was shot in the back of the leg and wounded by the bullets of a Japanese fighter.
At 8:06 the battleship Arizona was hit with a bomb from 10,000 feet. After crashing into the ship on the starboard side, the bomb made its way to the third deck powder magazine. What ensued was nothing less than a horrific explosion.
A Sailor from the nearby maintenance ship, USS Vestal, threw a rope over to the burning ship. Bruner and his shipmates climbed hand over hand and made their way to safety to become part of the 337 Arizona survivors.
“The experience of the day left Bruner traumatized,” said Martinez. “He regularly suffered from nightmares, visions of dead bodies, and memories of the stench of human flesh.”
Bruner went through nearly eight months of care recovering from burns that ravaged more than 70 percent of his body. But, his fight was not over.
Martinez recalls the survivor saying, “At that moment in my life I chose to face the future and not let my past dictate what would be ahead.”
“I am a believer in the adage that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it and that is what Lauren did on that day,” said Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “In the opening moments of World War II he and his shipmates set the standards that all of us to try and emulate every day.”
Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of his heroism. Bruner returned to the fight that spread across the Pacific Ocean, participating in eight more battles against the Japanese before seceding from the Navy.
A routine participant of Pearl Harbor commemorations, Bruner is no stranger to the familiar faces of the service members and civilians that surround the harbor’s memorials. Retired Rear Adm. Frank Ponds and Holbrook were two of those lucky enough to form a special bond with the survivor.
Both offered personal accounts of their experiences with the honoree.
“Lauren never ran from his past, he actually ran towards it. He embraced it and he shared it with others. And that’s what he did with me,” said Ponds. “If there was one thing that Lauren looked forward to, or that he relied on and that he had faith in, it was family and the youth that dawn the cloak of our nation. Lauren loved the Navy and he loved his nation.”
When it comes to the history books Bruner will be remembered and described as a veteran, survivor and Purple Heart recipient. But, for those that know him best, he will be remembered as: someone with an unforgettable grin and smile, a man with guts, fight and toughness and an American hero with a legacy worthy of the decades to come. There are many reasons to remember Pearl Harbor, but Bruner and his story gives a resounding reason to never forget.