When the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, sailor Lauren Bruner was the second-to-last person to get off the USS Arizona alive.
Bruner and five others were stranded on the doomed ship when a sailor on a repair ship spotted them and threw them a line. Even though Bruner was badly burned and had been shot twice, the 21-year-old managed to climb to safety.
He died in September at the age of 98, and on Saturday, his remains will return to the USS Arizona. He is expected to be the final USS Arizona survivor to be interred on the sunken warship, Pearl Harbor National Memorial spokesperson Jay Blount tells NPR.
There are three remaining survivors and they have expressed other wishes for their remains. According to the USS Arizona Memorial, Don Stratton, Lou Conter, and Ken Potts "are the only former crewmen remaining from the 337 men who survived the attack on the battleship."
Bruner's family will hold a funeral at the USS Arizona Memorial on Saturday evening. A team of National Park Service and military divers will then receive the urn of his ashes and place it in the hull of the USS Arizona wreckage. Blount says that 43 other survivors of the attack have been interred on the ship in the same location since the Navy started the practice in 1982.
A total of 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, in an assault that prompted the U.S. to formally enter World War II. Bruner's memorial ceremony coincides with events marking the anniversary of the devastating attack.
Bruner explained his decision to be interred on the ship during a 2014 news conference.
"Well, I studied it for a long time," the veteran said, according to Stars and Stripes. "All my family and friends have been buried in various places, cemeteries. But it seems like after a while, nobody pays attention to them anymore after about five years. I hope that a lot of people will still be coming to the Arizona. I would be glad to see them."
In a 2016 interview with Arizona Public Media, Bruner remembered seeing the first signs of the 1941 attack.
"All hands on deck, man your battle stations, this is not a drill," he remembered hearing. "You see these planes coming in – they were coming in shooting."
Bruner was shot twice in the leg, and the Japanese warplanes hit the ship with several bombs.
"I and five others were located on the anti-aircraft gun directors platform above the bridge when the forward powder magazine blew," he said, according to the USS Arizona Memorial. "All of us were badly burned."
The repair ship sailor, Joe George, sprang into action to help them.
"George spotted the six of us, who had no way to escape the burning ship. Joe George realized the desperate situation of the six of us on the Arizona and threw a line over to us, which was contrary to his Commander's orders," Bruner said. "We secured the line on the Arizona and each of us climbed hand over hand over to the Vestal even though we were severely burned."
After he recovered, Bruner went back to fight in the war, including seven operations in the South Pacific. He was awarded a Purple Heart and retired from the Navy in 1947.