NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. -- Nikki Stratton won't let the USS Arizona be forgotten.
And neither will Electric Boat.
Stratton, whose late grandfather, Donald Stratton, survived the battleship Arizona's sinking in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, helped weld her initials Wednesday onto a steel plate that will be mounted on the submarine Arizona (SSN 803), which EB is building here at its Quonset Point Facility.
Dubbed a "keel-laying ceremony," the event took place 81 years to the day after bombs struck the USS Arizona (BB 39), sending it to the Pearl Harbor floor while claiming the lives of 1,177 officers and crewmen. Fewer than 350 survived.
The next day, Dec. 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan.
Some 250 invited guests and a similar number of EB employees attended Wednesday's ceremony. Among the dignitaries in attendance were seven World War II veterans ― members, EB President Kevin Graney said, of America's "Greatest Generation" ― including the two remaining survivors of the battleship Arizona's sinking.
Lou Conter and Ken Potts, the remaining Arizona survivors, joined remotely, Conter speaking in a previously recorded video and Potts smiling and waving to the audience in a live video stream from his home in Provo, Utah. Both men are 101 years old.
Donald Stratton was the third remaining Arizona survivor when he died in February 2020. He was 97.
Nikki Stratton, who lives in Colorado, told the audience her grandfather was burned over 65% of his body in the Japanese attack and, after recovering from his injuries, re-enlisted in the Navy, enduring boot camp a second time and serving on a destroyer until World War II ended. He devoted much of the rest of his life to preserving the Arizona's legacy.
"His mantra was, 'Remember Pearl Harbor, remember the USS Arizona,'" Stratton said, choking up.
Among the World War II veterans Graney introduced were 100-year-old Tony Faella, of Kingston, R.I., who graduated from the University of Rhode Island after returning from the war and became an elementary school teacher and a principal; and 93-year-old Bill Stewart of Balboa Island, Calif., who is believed to be the youngest living World War II veteran. Stewart visited the battleship Arizona when he was a Boy Scout and the ship was homeported in Long Beach, Calif.
Also on hand were Billy Hall, 96, of Orange, Calif.; Wallace Johnson, 97, of San Leandro, Calif.; and Cliff Sharp, of Huntington Beach, Calif., who will turn 98 Friday. Hall is believed to be the last living veteran who enlisted before World War II and saw combat action in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Nikki Stratton said the Navy approached her about sponsoring the submarine Arizona ― the first Navy vessel named for the 48th state since the battleship Arizona sunk at Pearl Harbor ― right after her grandfather's funeral.
"I didn't need to think about it," she said, recalling how she jumped at the chance to honor her grandfather.
"The future is unknown," Stratton said. "But one thing we do know is that the crew of SSN 803 will stand watch, patrolling the ocean's depths ... She will strike fear into the hearts of our enemies and become a beacon of hope. Long may she rule the deep."
Stratton, whom Graney noted "knows how to weld," then donned protective clothing and headgear and joined Bob Hobday, an EB welder, in welding her initials to the steel plate that will be affixed to the submarine.
Pieces of the Arizona, which is being built in a partnership between EB and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, will be assembled at EB's Groton shipyard. Scheduled for completion in 2027, it will be the 30th ship of the Navy's Virginia class of fast-attack submarines and the first to be equipped with the Virginia Payload Module, which comprises four large-diameter, vertical payload tubes in a special hull section.
The tubes will enable the Arizona to deliver a variety of capabilities, including weapons, unmanned undersea vehicles and other payloads.
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