PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - More than 60 years ago, 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 this week was likely among the last. National Park Service divers carried the seaman's ashes below the sea to one of the Arizona's gun turrets, among the remains of his shipmates.
"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, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, died May 22 at the age of 83. Speakers at the memorial Tuesday said that during the Japanese attack, he was knocked unconscious by explosions that rocked the ship. 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.
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.
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.
All but 554 of the Arizona's 1,731 men went down with their vessel, which became their mausoleum. Twenty-one of the survivors have been buried undersea. Only veterans who were assigned to the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, qualify for burial there.
With just a couple of dozen Arizona survivors still living, only a handful of others are expected to take advantage of the honor.
The ceremony surrounding such a burial includes a 21-gun salute, 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 as companions.
"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."