A military honor guard carried Russell Lott's ashes, center, while another honor guard carried an American flag during a ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial on Tuesday. Lott was laid to rest below the sea in one of the Arizona's gun turrets.

USS Arizona survivor
finds final rest on ship

A burial ceremony honors a
vet's wishes to rejoin his shipmates

Russell Lott struggled to pull himself across a lifeline to escape the fiery USS Arizona. But when his life ended, it was the sunken ship he chose as his final resting place.

Lott's interment aboard the Arizona in Pearl Harbor last week is likely among the last. National Park Service divers carried the seaman on his final journey this week, below the sea to one of the Arizona's gun turrets, among the remains of shipmates who saw the same carnage he did nearly 62 years ago.

"It's a unique moment of closure of being back with their shipmates," said Bernard Doyle, chief ranger at the Arizona Memorial. "It's a bonding through catastrophe."

Lott saw massive bloodshed from his vantage on the Arizona. As speakers at the memorial put it Tuesday, he was knocked unconscious by the explosions that rocked the ship and when he awoke he ripped the burned flesh from his arms and sought escape. Dangling from a 60-foot-long line stretched four stories above a cauldron of fire, he made his way hand over hand to safety.

Lott, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, died May 22 at the age of 83.

The seaman's actions were remembered in a poignant ceremony. But it was a service attended by no relatives of Lott and few who had ever met him.

National Park Service divers carried Russell Lott's ashes below the sea to one of the USS Arizona's gun turrets, among the remains of shipmates who saw the same carnage he did nearly 62 years ago.

Still, those who gathered above the Arizona said the significance could not be lessened.

"He knows he's going home," said Douglas Lentz, superintendent of the Arizona Memorial.

Only veterans who were assigned to the USS Arizona at the time of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor qualify for burial there. A number of individuals have been allowed to have their ashes scattered over the waters below the memorial, but since the first interment there in 1982, few sets of remains have been carried down to the doomed ship.

All but 554 of the Arizona's 1,731 men went down with their vessel, its massive steel frame becoming the wall to their underwater cemetery. Only 21 of the hundreds who survived the attack but since died have been buried undersea.

With just a couple of dozen Arizona survivors still living, only a handful of others are expected to take advantage of the matchless honor.

The ceremony surrounding such a burial includes all the requisite military ingredients -- a 21-gun salute that echoed across the harbor, a lone bugler's rendition of taps, a flag folded in the veteran's memory. As Tuesday's service concluded, sailors dropped plumerias in the water and a rainbow appeared over the mountains.

As much as Lott was described as a hero, he was also remembered as a loner. But in death, he chose his shipmates to rest near.

"He wanted to be down with his boys. I could understand that," said John Iantorno, 81, a Pearl Harbor survivor who attended the burial. "Maybe that's the only family he thought he had."


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