Nikki Stratton, granddaughter of USS Arizona survivor Donald Stratton, also presented the town at its Sept. 15 council meeting with a piece of the battleship as a gift that she said would bind her, the town and the submarine together as family.
Nikki Stratton said she hoped Gilbert will help create a legacy that will last for generations.
“Gilbert, Arizona, is a place where the past and present collide in harmony with each other, a place where the new USS Arizona and her crew could call home, a community that is full of people who love their country, military and especially their veterans,” Nikki Stratton said. “Gilbert offers the best of both worlds: small-town America with a dash of city appeal.”
Nikki Stratton first made the formal request in a letter to former Mayor Jenn Daniels and the Town Council on the occasion of the town’s centennial July 6. She traveled from Denver to appear before the council Sept. 15 to make the invitation in person.
The USS Arizona battleship was sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, pushing the United States into World War II. Donald Stratton survived with burns over 65% of his body. He died in February, leaving only two survivors from the ship alive.
Navy officials asked Nikki Stratton to be the submarine’s sponsor right after her grandfather’s funeral. The Navy had announced in December plans to launch two Virginia-class, fast-attack submarines named after ships lost in the attack, the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma.
Independently of Nikki Stratton’s designation as ship sponsor, Gilbert’s newly formed veterans and military advisory board expressed interest in Gilbert becoming the municipal sponsor in a June letter to Daniels. Nikki Stratton quickly endorsed the idea when she learned of it from Council Member Bill Spence, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and council’s liaison to the veterans committee.
“So many sailors on the USS Arizona grew up in towns like Red Cloud, Nebraska (Donald Stratton’s hometown), and Gilbert, Arizona, and other smaller one-horse towns with maybe one stop sign or one stoplight,” Nikki Stratton told council. “Towns like these forged our country into the incredible nation that it is today.
“And so my search began for a place that embodied that 1941 fighting spirit and a place my grandfather, if he were here, would be proud to call home. And so I found Gilbert, and Gilbert found me.”
The town’s role would be as a ceremonial hometown to the crew and “the center of gravity and representative voice for all the people of the great state of Arizona,” according to Nikki Stratton.
Any activities associated with sponsorship would be underwritten by the nonprofit Navy League of the United States Phoenix Council, which would handle fundraising and run all monies through a Navy League commissioning committee’s limited liability corporation, Jake McManus, president of the league’s Phoenix Council, told council.
McManus said the commissioning of the Arizona will be one of the bigger Naval commissionings to ever happen because of its namesake battleship.
Nikki Stratton’s invitation came as part of a board presentation to council on its activities. The board was formed in May.
Board Chairman Les Presmyk told council it was working in its first year to form three subcommittees, one on veterans events, another for the USS Arizona and a third on veterans’ well-being.
Presmyk said the board recommends accepting Nikki Stratton’s invitation to be the submarine’s municipal sponsor.
Mayor Scott Anderson said council could take no formal action on the invitation Sept. 15 as such action was not part of the agenda, but it would be considered at a future date.