The water appeared to be on fire.

Donald Stratton stood on the deck of the USS Arizona as a Japanese bomb devastated part of the battleship, stationed in Hawaii's Pearl Harbor. The ground trembled beneath his feet as explosions rang out and a fireball ripped through him, setting his T-shirt ablaze.

On the ship's lower deck, other sailors were engulfed in flames. Stratton took up his station on a covered perch on the main mast and tried to shoot down the Japanese planes, but their shells couldn't reach the aircraft. Ships all around the Arizona were exploding.

Joe George, a boatswain's mate on a repair ship about 70 feet away, was cutting the lines that tethered the vessel to the Arizona when he saw Stratton and five other men stranded on the battleship. In direct defiance of orders, George shoved a lead-weighted rope to the Arizona's sailors, who grabbed hold.

"The six of us went hand over hand across the line and above the inflamed water," Stratton wrote in his memoir, "All the Gallant Men." "My body was burned, my hands were raw, and I was focused on survival. I never thought about not making it."

In the memoir, Stratton said George's daring choice was possibly the only reason that Stratton, then 19, lived through the 1941 attack and eventually became one of the Arizona's last three survivors. After nearly eight decades of recounting his story and joining other survivors at annual anniversary ceremonies, Stratton died in his sleep late ­Saturday at his Colorado Springs home. He was 97.

Although Arizona survivors can choose to join more than 900 other sailors entombed in the wreckage, Stratton has said he wants to be buried with his family in Nebraska.

Lou Conter and Ken Potts, both 98, are now the only living survivors of the Arizona, where 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed — roughly half of the total death toll — and 335 escaped.

Stratton talked about that traumatic day many times over the years, his son Randy Stratton said Monday. The 25th anniversary was the first time he saw his father cry. Loud noises spooked Stratton for years after he joined the Navy for "20 bucks a month and to see the world," Randy said.

In 2016, Stratton said that the searing images of his fellow sailors' deaths were never far from his mind. "I think about it every day," he said. "I have no animosity against the Japanese people, but I can't forget what happened."

Once Stratton and the others made it into the supply vessel, they climbed onto the dock and into a truck for a ride to a nearby Navy hospital, Stratton told the Arizona Republic in 2014. A worker soon asked for volunteers to be transferred to a hospital in California, and Stratton volunteered.

"If you can stand up and stay up while we change the linen on this bed, we'll see about it," the worker told him, according to Stratton's memory.

Stratton stood and suffered through the pain until his bed was remade. He was at a hospital near San Francisco by Christmas.

In the hospital, Stratton's weight dropped to 92 pounds. His feet refused to react when he tried to stand. He declined a visit from his mother because he couldn't stand the thought of her seeing him.

Doctors wanted to amputate Stratton's left arm, which they worried would never heal. Stratton rejected their suggestion and set out to regain his strength: learning to walk again, swim and stand.

Although he was deemed unfit for combat when he was released in September 1942, Stratton quickly decided that he wanted to re-enlist. Most of the other young men in his hometown of Red Cloud, Neb., had joined the military. Besides, Stratton admitted in his memoir, he wanted revenge.

Stratton convinced the draft board to let him back into the Navy, and he went through a second round of boot camp. In 1945, he fought in the Battle of Okinawa, which he described in his memoir as "82 days of hell." He started electric-hydraulics school in San Diego a few weeks before the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In addition to George, who threw the lead rope that saved their lives, Stratton often credited "the good Lord" with helping him to survive. "I don't know how I made it," he said in 2016. "But I'm here."