Hanging on to Faith Alone.

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HANGING ON TO FAITH ALONE

George Fain Black

 

Having scarcely been more than fifty miles from home in my life, I had decided on my 18th birthday to join the Navy. I rode a bus for 90 miles to Lubbock, Texas, where as a selective volunteer, I was sent to Naval Boot Training at Camp Wallace near Galveston. After “boots,” I traveled on a troop train to radio school at Naval Armory in Indianapolis, and graduated as a radioman striker in December 1944. I arrived at a receiving ship near San Jose, California, and in less than 2 weeks, was on a bus in search of my ship.  I clearly remember the bus turning a corner at dockside at Alameda, and there loomed the most awesome thing I had ever seen in my life—the attack aircraft carrier named USS Franklin. The sea detail had already been set, and lines were attached to the gangway to pull it aboard just minutes after our party had boarded. I had never before seen a ship, or the sea.

 

While awaiting billeting assignment, my group was allowed to witness our departure under the Golden Gate, and saw it finally disappear into the haze. I had difficulty in acclimating to shipboard life, as I was in a group of 10 who did not even have a bunk, locker, or compartment assigned; we had to live, even off duty, in the mess hall, and sleep in our hammocks, as best as we’ could, when it did not conflict with mess meals or the early rising Airedales.  After we let Ulithi atoll, the mess hall was used as a bomb assembly area when not used for mess. I usually swung my hammock near the bomb elevator, and on one occasion, was roused out of my hammock from a deep exhaustive sleep only to straddle a 500-pound bomb parked directly under me. My watch was important. I was on what was called “Jump Fox,” which was NSS Pearl Harbor and CINCPAC. Should the main operator miss reception of the Morse-coded messages, then, as the “back up,” I was expected to receive it. As the “flag” was aboard, anything that came for “Big Ben” was important.

 

Recalling, the communications K division went into battle conditions on March 15, we shifted to two battle watches: starboard and port, and we stayed at our radio positions for 8 hours. My first test as an operator receiver came on the 16th, with our call sign direct from Admiral Nimitz H.Q. It was a long coded message; both the operator and I got it okay. A few hours later, after decoding and delivery, I Was shown the message copy and it said, “Lucky Day March 17.” We guessed that our sealed orders authorized our attack to commence on that date, and we turned out to be correct. Before we could be relieved from watch, we went into battle stations; so we remained on watch all through the 17th and into the l8th. Several attempts were made to relieve us for mess and rest, but each time was thwarted by battle conditions with bogeys on the screen. I recall going through the night of the l8th-l9th still at watch on the radios… very hungry, and tired. We had plenty of java and that was it. Suddenly, one of the communications officers, an Ensign, burst into the radio shack and announced our relief was just behind. We were to go on the double before chow call and eat ahead of everyone else; we had to get mess over within 5 minutes and report to Radio 2 on the fantail. Tired and hungry, I jumped and handed the earphones to my relief (I never saw him again as he was killed there), and followed my watch leader, First Class R/M Walter Bigusiak, down the ladders to mess.

 

The first bomb exploded, just as l seated and started scooping in chow. The blast flung me clear across the compartment into a corner. I struck a stack of sea bags and hammocks, one being my own, which cushioned the impact.  Others seated at the same mess table were not so lucky. Managing to get to my feet as a few others were doing the same, I noticed everyone’s face was sooty black from the burnt powder of the blast. Some hurried to go aft, some forward. Later, I learned that hardly anyone made it out. We had been ordered to Radio 2 on the starboard fantail, and tried to go that way. We were following Bigusiak, so we went port to a ladder that led up to the hanger deck. Thirteen men got into a small crew compartment under the hangar deck, just before the lights went out. A few minutes later, the telephone went out. The heat from above was becoming intolerable. I grabbed a towel from a bunk, wet it in a scuttlebutt, and tied the wet towel over my face to breathe, and then crawled into a bunk.  The explosions came closer and knocked down anyone standing. A cook grabbed the hatch wheel atop the ladder, and burned his hands.  After what seemed an eternity and another close explosion, salt water started pouring in from above, cooling off the hatch, and the cook was able to turn the wheel. By this time, we were out of air and in a starboard list. A burned out plane slid away from over the hatch and we now had a way to climb out onto the hangar deck. A rocket had blown a leak in a salt water line, and the pouring water put out the fire just over us.

 

By my own count, 11 preceded me up the ladder. A man wearing a gas mask grabbed me as number 12 and pushed me ahead of him. Had he not done this, I would not have made it, as I was now strangling. He was last out and number 13. We were nearly overcome with smoke and lack of oxygen.

 

The hangar deck was an unbelievable mass of wreckage and fire. A burning fighter plane’s wing guns spit bullets just above our heads, and then a blast spun it around in another direction. The deck was full of bomb holes, and we followed our only light to starboard. There was carnage everywhere. We met not a living soul on the hangar deck. Reaching a gun mount, we saw no way out in any direction but the sea. No rats, no floats, no life buoys, no life jackets among any of us; just steel helmets. Burning aviation gasoline started pouring over the side and making its way aft toward us. The decision was go or stay; an individual choice. Bigusiak a non-swimmer, was the only one to stay. We jumped overboard in groups of three, all 12 of us. I didn’t know the other two who jumped with me, but for a while we managed to stay together. Until they drowned, I tried to hold the other two up. Both were wounded, and just gave up. A “can” went by at full speed and threw a life preserver to us, but I was too exhausted to swim to it. I was managing to stay afloat by trapping air in my shirt. After 55 years of wondering, I still have not clearly established the time frame. It must have been hours.

 

I could tell the light was getting dim when a fighter roared over me just above the water. I thought perhaps I was going to get strafed, but it turned out to be one of ours, and he was leading a “can” to me. Some guy actually roped me first-try with a loop, and I was pulled into a cargo net. I had noticed I had drifted into land swells, and I was having difficulty keeping afloat. I suppose not much time was left for me. Just in time, the USS Hunt had saved me. Hours later, when I awoke, and days later, when I could walk, I looked all over the ship for those 12 guys from the Franklin who took to the sea with me, but none were aboard. Later I learned that Bigusiak, who had apparently stayed with the ship to his end, was listed as M.I.A.

 

Going from bunk to bunk and looking at all the faces, and asking around on the Hunt, I realized that of the my group of Franklin crewmen, 13 in all, one had died on the hangar deck, and of the 12 men who had gone into the sea together, I alone, was rescued.

It is a short journey of the sweet innocence of a youth, who in nine short months sailed into harm’s way to be a part of the carnage.

 

It is real FAITH when that is all you have to hang onto.

When thou passest through the waters, 1 will be with

thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.

When thou walkest through the rivers, thou shalt not be

burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

 

Isaiah 43:2

 

March 2020 Pensacola Reunion Postponed

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Hello again Franklin Family,

After much more consideration, and in light of recent developments, we must inform you that we have decided to postpone the reunion next week in Pensacola. We definitely plan to reschedule it there sometime this summer or fall. But we have to wait to see what happens before we can make any definite plans. Please be sure to cancel your hotel rooms and other travel plans. The Pensacola Grand Hotel phone number is 850-433-3336.  At this point we have made financial commitments and paid out money for deposits and pins & keychains. So we would like to hold on to the registration fees for the new dates. If this does not work for you please let us know. We are very sorry for the late notice. We really wanted to pull this off on the anniversary date but unfortunately it is just not possible. We hope everyone will be able to attend on the new dates. Again please contact April at aprilhomko@gmail.com or 815-685-9298 with any questions. Please stay healthy and safe.

Tips on researching the USS Franklin, CV-13

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There have been several inquiries regarding how to best research information on a crew member through the Franklin social media channels. These are the best online resources to help start your search that I have found. Please feel free to send suggestions to franklin@ussfranklin.org. I will try to keep this list updated.

Facebook: The USS Franklin Museum Association maintains a group called Survivors, Family, and Friends of the USS Franklin CV-13, click here for access: https://www.facebook.com/groups/107402169285997/?ref=bookmarks

There are also other USS Franklin groups as well as many World War II groups to explore.
Facebook is the top recommended resource for sharing USS Franklin information as many relatives of crew members regularly visit and contribute to these pages.

www.USSFranklin.org website: This is the main website for the USS Franklin CV-13 Museum Association. The content found on this website includes the bi-annual Newsletter, Reunion information, and Obituaries. Inquiries can be sent to franklin@ussfranklin.org, the main website email address.

USS Franklin Cruise Book, Big Ben the Flat Top: For more information, click below.
www.ussfranklin.org/?p=901

USS Franklin Muster Rolls. http://www.ussfranklin.org/?p=1306 The Muster Rolls are a large collection of PDF files available for download. These documents were kept by the Navy to record who was aboard the ship at all times.

www.Ancestry.com: This is a pay website, but we have found there to be a lot of detailed information, including muster rolls and draft cards. If you are looking to research a specific individual, this might be a great resource.

USS Franklin Muster Roll

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USS Franklin Muster Roll H Selection 1/31/1944

For USS Franklin researchers, I have obtained a copy of the USS Franklin muster roll copied from microfilm records of the US Navy.  This muster roll contains records of the ships company as the sailors moved onto and off of the ship.  This is not a complete account of all the ships transfers.  Specifically, this does not include information on the Marine and Air groups on board the Franklin.  The file is very large- at 2GB in size and may take some time to download from google drive.  You must “Unzip” the file to reveal all of the individual pages in .jpg picture format.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzBtohmaZ_nSbFVzM0ZRNHNoSTA

This is very similar if not the same information available at www.ancestry.com.

 

Inscribed bricks offered at the USS Franklin Memorial in Stuart Florida

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You may recall the USS Franklin’s own Sam Rhodes efforts to establish a USS Franklin Memorial in Stuart Florida published in an article on this site in November 2013.  See the article below.

USS Franklin plaques to be dedicated in Memorial Park in Stuart Florida on Veterans Day.

Mr. Ed Maxwell of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1041 in Stuart Florida reports that their Memorial Brick Program is open to any and all veterans and is installing customized bricks in the Stuart Veterans Memorial Park.  Bricks can be customized for $25 and $75 dollars.  Make sure you mention your USS Franklin connection so the bricks can be located accordingly in the park.  Click the image of the brick below for an application.

Harry Smeltzer Brick USS Franklin Memorial Stuart Florida

https://ussfranklin310144520.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/bricks.pdf

You can also get a brick application at the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1041 website here:

http://www.vva1041.org/#!about2/c1et

 

Memorial Service, Sunday Morning 25 March 1945

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70 Years ago, on Sunday Morning 25 March 1945, in the aftermath of the USS Franklin Bombing, Protestant Chaplain G. Weldon Gatlin delivered the sermon below at a memorial service for the fallen crew aboard the USS Franklin.

Franklin Memorial Service Page 1

Franklin Memorial Service Page 1

Please click the image above to access the 4 page document. The PDF Document is approximately 5MB so it may take a minute to download.

Obituary, Henry Ray Ashbrook

Henry Ray Ashbrook, age 95 years, 8 months and 17 days, passed away Thursday, April 30, 2020, at his home in Stearns.

Funeral Services were held Saturday, May 2, 2020 at 2:00pm in the chapel of the Hickman-Strunk Funeral Home with Bro. Eddie King officiating. Burial was in the Silerville Cemetery in Strunk, Kentucky.

Born in Russell Springs, Ky., on August 13, 1924, to Adonis Ashbrook, and Rosa (Chumley) Ashbrook, Henry was a member of the greatest generation, living through the great depression and helping to win WWII by his meritorious service In the US Navy. He proudly served in the Pacific, aboard the USS Franklin, the most decorated ship in history. Nicknamed Big Ben, the ship was one of 24 Essex Class Carriers built during WWII.

In March of 1945, while off the Japanese mainland, the Franklin was struck by two 500 pound bombs that hit the flight deck and penetrated the hangar deck. Six months earlier, the ship had been hit by a kamikaze plane, killing or wounding 120 crew members. The second attack on the ship ignited 31 fueled aircraft as well as most of the ordinance on board. Henry, who was an aviation ordinance man 3rd class, was below when the ship was struck. More than 800 men lost their lives. Survivors who managed to reach the flight deck had to climb hand over hand on a rope across raging waters to a rescue ship. Both the U.S.S. Franklin and Henry would survive. Henry received numerous medals and commendations for his bravery and service.

Henry returned after the war and took a job in the chemical department of the Formica Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. He resided in Cincinnati and Sunbright, Tennessee, and was married to Ruby Edna Burchell for 42 years until she passed in 1991. Time and circumstance would bring him to Stearns, Kentucky, where he met and married Fay Anderson and they began their lives together. Henry enjoyed trading, flea marketing, fishing, reading his Bible, and attending family gatherings. He was a member of First Hickory Grove Baptist Church, a member of the Kinne- Slaven Post of the American Legion, in Stearns, and Wartburg Masonic Lodge, in Wartburg, Tn., for over 50 years, and was a Kentucky Colonel.

In addition to his parents, Henry is preceded in death by his wives Edna and Fay Ashbrook, son, Ray Ashbrook, step-son John, Blair, step-daughters Melissa Parr, Penny Hinchey, and Marcia Welter, two brothers, Lindell and Adrian Ashbrook, and two sisters, Adelyne Smith and Selma Stamer.

He is survived by two sons, Tom and Robert Ashbrook, step-son Joseph Anderson and Diane, step-son inlaw Steve Parr, step-daughters, Karen and Joe Clancy, Susan and Brad Hill, and Brenda and Wayne Hall, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

To know Henry was simply to love him. Henry loved the Lord, his church, and his family. He led an extraordinary life, and his testimony, faith, and memories are what we will remember of Henry.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Henry’s name to the following organizations:
First Hickory Grove Baptist Church
Stearns, KY 42647

Kinne- Slaven Post of the American Legion
1 Veterans Drive
Stearns, KY 42647

Hickman-Strunk Funeral Home was honored to serve the family of Mr. Henry Ashbrook.

Obituary, Gerard P. “Jerry” Welch, 86

Gerard P. “Jerry” Welch, 86, of Natick, passed away on June 8, 2012. He was the beloved husband of Patricia A. (Turner) Welch and the late Reba (Himmelberger) Welch.

Born in Newton, son of the late Daniel and Mary F. (Herlihy) Welch, Jerry was raised there and attended the Newton schools and Our Lady Help of Christians school. After graduating from Newton High School, he enlisted in the United States Navy and valiantly served during WWII aboard the USS Franklin in the Asiatic-Pacific region. He was awarded the Silver Star on August 8, 1945 for gallantry and intrepidity while serving in the central Pacific waters. Upon being honorably discharged from naval service in 1945, Jerry returned to the Boston area and began his career with the United States Postal Service serving in Boston and Framingham until his retirement. After retiring from the USPS, Jerry then went to work for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority as a toll collector. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus in Natick and the Disabled American Veterans.

In addition to his wife, Jerry is survived by his son, Gerard P. Welch, Jr. and his wife Donna of Reading, PA; his step-children, Elizabeth Songer of Bethlehem, PA, William Songer of San Diego, CA, and Teresa Songer of Atascadero, CA; his grandsons, Daniel, Shaun, and Joseph; 4 great-grandchildren; and his sisters, Mary McMillen of Newton, Alice Patterson of Roundtop, NY, Rita Sheehy of Newton, and Joan Sheehy of Newton. He was the brother of the late Daniel Welch.

Relatives and friends are invited to attend Jerry’s funeral from the John Everett & Sons Funeral Home, 4 Park St. (at Natick Common) Natick on Monday, June 11, 2012 at 9:00 AM to be followed by his Mass of Christian Burial in St. Patrick’s Church, Natick at 10:00 AM. Burial with military honors will follow in St. Stephen’s Cemetery, Framingham. Visiting hours will be held on Sunday, June 10, 2012 from 3-6 PM.

For directions and online guestbook please visit http://www.everettfuneral.com

Great Articles Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the USS Franklin bombing.

Navy History and Heritage Command, H-042-1: The Ship That Wouldn’t Die—USS Franklin (CV-13), 19 March 1945.

https://www.history.navy.mil/about-us/leadership/director/directors-corner/h-grams/h-gram-043/h-043-1.html

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  Doc George Fox Family

https://www.jsonline.com/picture-gallery/news/2020/03/19/george-fox-earned-navy-star-after-attack-uss-franklin/2864981001/

https://www.jsonline.com/videos/news/2020/03/19/george-fox-died-saving-sailors-lives-during-world-war-2/2866388001/

Penn Live Patriot News

https://www.pennlive.com/life/2020/03/big-ben-bombed-battered-bruised-and-bent-the-75th-anniversary-of-the-bombing-of-the-uss-franklin.html

Obituary, Robert P. Grimm

Robert P. Grimm
May 5, 1925 – March 27, 2020
Robert P. Grimm, passed away peacefully in his home on March 27th.
He was born May 5, 1925 to Wendel and Julia Grimm. He is survived by his loving wife of seventy one years, Kathleen Grimm; son Richard Grimm, daughter Susan Welsh and her husband Michael, and daughter Kathy Grimm-Signorelli and her finance Michael Hausman; six cherished grandchildren, Bryan Welsh, Kathryn Welsh-Kohl, and husband Zachary, Kevin Welsh, Lauren Signorelli-Ocasio, Nicholas Signorelli, and Michael Signorelli; great grandson Jacen Ocasio and soon to be new addition of baby Kohl.
Robert served in the Marine Corps, from July 1943 to October 1945 aboard the USS Franklin CV-13 aircraft carrier. His ship was awarded four battle stars for the Pacific Theatre and one star on the Philippine Ribbon. The ship’s final action was against the Japanese at the Islands of Kyushu and Honshu where the ship was hit with two 500 pound bombs resulting in 832 shipmates losing their lives and the ship barely making it back to port.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.

Obituary, David Wilkinson Leonard

David Wilkinson Leonard, 93, of Mocksville, died on Feb. 16, 2020 after a lengthy battle with dementia.

He was born July 30, 1926 in Forsyth County, a son of the late Stahle Hartman Leonard and Edna Wilkinson Leonard of Rowan County.

He was also preceded in death by his sister, Edna Rae Sidwell.

He served his country in the US Navy during World War II on board the carrier USS Ben Franklin CV13 and was on board March 19, 1945, when the attack on his ship claimed more than 700 lives. After his service, he attended Pfeiffer College and later retired from Bell South Telephone after 34 years in cable repair.

Survivors: his son and daughter-in-law, David and Uka Leonard of Mocksville; his brother, Stahle H. Leonard and nephew Richard Leonard of Albemarle; grandson, Justin Kyle Leonard; and 2 great-granddaughters, Kahli and Marley Leonard.

Visitation was 6:30- 8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24 at Davie Funeral Service. A graveside service was held at Salisbury National Cemetery at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, with his brother, Stahle H. Leonard officiating.

Condolences: http://www.daviefuneralservice.com.

Obituary, Martin Roy

Mr. Martin Roy, 105, of Manchester, formerly of Suncook, passed away on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, at Villa Crest Nursing Home in Manchester.

Born on Nov. 11, 1914, in Armagh, Canada, he was the son of the late Napoleon and Adelia (Boutin) Roy.

Martin moved to New Hampshire when he was 12 and attended local schools. He proudly served his country in the United States Navy until 1945. He was the former owner of Roy’s Grocery on Main Street in Suncook during the 1960s, worked in the textile mills in Manchester for 33 years and later as a thoroughbred horse racer for 13 years before his retirement. He also enjoyed gardening and held a part-time job during his retirement at a local bank, which he enjoyed.

In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his wife Louise (Boutin) Roy as well as his 10 siblings.

He is survived by his children, Paul Roy and his wife Diane of Manchester and Cecile Fitts of Weare; grandsons, Henry Fitts, Jr. and Pattie of N.J., Richard Fitts of Weare and Michael Fitts and his wife Tracey of Weare; great-grandchildren, Virginia, Jacob, Madeline, Lucas, Amanda and Michael Pinizzotto, great-great-granddaughter, Abigail as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

The family would like to thank the staff at Villa Crest for the wonderful care that was given to Martin while he was there.

SERVICES: Calling hours will be held on Thursday, Feb. 20, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Petit-Roan Funeral Home, 167 Main Street, Pembroke. A Mass of Christian burial will be held on Friday, Feb. 21 at 11 a.m. in St. John the Baptist Church, Allenstown. Interment with military honors will be held in the spring at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery, Boscawen.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Martin’s memory to Villa Crest Nursing Home, 1276 Hanover St. Manchester, NH 03104.

Obituary, Walter J. DeVoss Sr.

DeVoss, Walter J. Sr. COLONIE Walter J. DeVoss Sr., 94, passed away peacefully on February 20, 2020, after a brief illness. Born in Burlington, Vt., he was the son of the late Philip and Cora (Gokey) DeVoss. Walter served in the United States Navy and was a proud World War II veteran having served in the Pacific Theatre. He often told stories of his experiences on the USS Santa Fe, a CL 60 Light Cruiser, where he and several others rescued fellow sailors off the USS Franklin after it was bombed. He worked over 25 years as a tractor trailer driver for Iroquois Millwork, retiring in 1987. Walter was a long-time member of the Zaloga Post #1520, where he spent time enjoying the activities and friendships that he developed there. He was also a past member and volunteer at the Sheehy-Palmer VFW Post #6776 for many years. Walter and his wife Jayne lived in Leesburg, Fla. for 10 years during their retirement where they enjoyed their home, golf and many good times with friends and neighbors. Walter was predeceased by his loving wife of 66 years, Jayne M. (DiBella) DeVoss; his son Walter “Buddy” DeVoss; and his siblings, Pearl Dumas, Fern Westervelt, Margaret Hatin, Marion Spaulding and Phillip DeVoss. He is survived by his cherished daughter, Patricia (Michael) Panucci of Halfmoon. Grandfather of Jason (Beth) Panucci and Christopher Panucci, Tiffany and Nicholas DeVoss, and Jennifer (Robert) Samson. He is also survived by seven great-grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews. The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks to Beth Lee, Peter and Doug of Community Hospice for their amazing kindness and loving care of Walter. Relatives and friends are invited to visit the family on Wednesday, February 26, from 9:30-11 a.m. at the Daniel Keenan Funeral Home, 490 Delaware Ave., Albany. Funeral services for Walter will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at the conclusion of the visitation in the funeral home. Interment will follow in the Saratoga National Cemetery, Schuylerville. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Walter’s name to the Community Hospice Foundation, 310 S. Manning Blvd., Albany, NY, 12208. Online condolences may be offered to the family at danielkeenandfuneralhome.com.