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Second to the Last to Leave: USS Arizona Survivor & La Mirada Resident Lauren Bruner’s Story




By Tammye McDuff and Brian Hews

Most of us know the day, December 7, 1941, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, “a date which will live in infamy.”

Pearl Harbor, or the Battle of Pearl Harbor, was also called the Hawaii Operation or Operation AI by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters.

The surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

And La Mirada resident Lauren Bruner knows the battle well.

At 96 years old, fate has been shadowing Bruner his entire life. Bruner was born on Nov. 4, 1920 in Shelton, Washington to Leroy Clarence and Lucille Iowa (Smith) Bruner. When he was only 9 years old, his father died from tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter, due to the depression, his mother gave him up to go live with another family. At eight years old he was arrested for running moonshine and later was burned over 70 percent of his body. He is a cancer survivor.

And he was on the USS Arizona on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 as a “Fire Controlman 3/c.”

Bruner is one of 14 men that survived the attack, and was second to the last to leave the ship. Bruner wanted to tell his story but did not know how. Then he met Ed McGrath.

McGrath is a historian, biographer, and has co-written the accounts of that fateful December day.

“Five years ago, I was doing research on Pearl Harbor and particularly on the history of the USS Arizona.” McGrath Googled “survivors of the Arizona.” That’s when he found Bruner.

At the time there were 14 survivors. McGrath attempted to contact them without response, except for Bruner.” Bruner was the only survivor to answer the phone,” said McGrath.

“I asked if I could come over and interview him, and he said sure come on over,” recalls McGrath.“ I was in awe that I was meeting and speaking with an American Hero and a Navy legend in his living room, in La Mirada no less.”

On their first visit, Bruner was hesitant to speak about December 7th. Sensing his unease, McGrath asked if he could return for another visit. Bruner laughed and said, “Many people have interviewed me, most of them say they will come back and they never do. They got the interview they wanted and they never came back.”

McGrath made it a point to come back, and the two men have been gathering every Thursday morning, rain or shine, for the past four years. “It has been great adventure,” said McGrath, “I didn’t start out wanting to be an expert, I started out to be in awe of an American hero.”

As the two men became friends, Bruner slowly began to open up and talk about Pearl Harbor. From those meetings the book “Second to the last to leave: USS Arizona, 12.7.41”  was published.

The book begins the day Bruner turns 18 and enlists in the Navy, after which he was assigned to the crew of the USS Arizona. Thee book takes the reader into the life of sailor on the USS Arizona, through the attack on Pearl Harbor, through Bruner’s fight to survive after he was wounded and burned, finally escaping with four of his crew members as the Arizona was sinking to its grave with over 1,170 men aboard.

McGrath and Bruner have travelled all over the country, ultimately returning to Hawaii seven times.  The two have started a foundation called the Lauren F. Bruner / USS Arizona Memorial Foundation which is dedicated to honoring the crew of the Arizona for future generations.

The last reunion of the five survivors of the Arizona will be held in Hawaii on December 1, 2016 coinciding with the release of his book.

Bruner has given HMG-CN an exclusive look into his life and the book written by McGrath. HMG-CN will take you through the book for the next three weeks, through different stages of Bruner’s life aboard the USS Arizona, ending with Bruner as the “Second to the Last to Leave.”

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