A Pearl Harbor Book 75 Years in the Making

Lauren Bruner, 96, was aboard the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.

It was just a few months ago that David Montero joined the Los Angeles Times as a Las Vegas-based correspondent. Today, on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he’s delivered one of the best commemorative articles about “America’s first 9/11.” (The reporter was dispatched recently to the islands to provide anniversary coverage for the paper.)

Montero outlines the intriguing relationship that developed between aspiring documentary filmmaker Ed McGrath and Army veteran Lauren Bruner (pictured), now 96, who was stationed at the time of the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.

McGrath would pay weekly visits to Bruner at the latter’s home in La Mirada, Calif. One day, Bruner finally, for the first time, talked about his memories of the attack:

The older man started with three words: “It was bad,” he said. McGrath listened intently through Bruner’s tears. The story was worse than he’d imagined.

“He told me that the ship was listing and he was looking down on the deck and there are bodies everywhere,” McGrath said. “But he said he spotted these two sailors wearing their white uniforms, and the way they were walking, they looked like two friends taking a walk. He said he thought they’d be OK and were going to make it. Then, he said, they turned around and their uniforms were burned off, their hair was burned off and even their peckers were burned off.”

In the end, McGrath produced a documentary and subsequently wrote a book based on his conversations with Bruner, both titled Second to the Last to Leave, a reference to the fact that his subject was indeed one of the final survivors to make it off the battleship.

Bruner was in Honolulu over the weekend for the book launch, and tells Montero, “I told Ed for the book so I wouldn’t have to talk about it again.” Montero’s piece has also been picked up by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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