Saving Seaman Stuart
There are many reasons for the writing of SAVING SEAMAN STUART. First, this tribute to Jim Stuart must be done to preserve history both for his family and the Stuart family overall. So, this will also become a key part of the Stuart Family Book to be stored in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the Ohio Genealogy Society Library in Mansfield and the Genealogy Library in Coshocton, Ohio. Second, the act of danger and heroism in itself is worthy of this effort. And, finally no one else in the recorded history of Stuart Ancestry has been subjected to combat conditions to compare with the South Pacific experiences of Jim Stuart. Jim was a part of the “Greatest Generation” as defined by Tom Brokaw in his book by that name.
Jim has carefully collected and saved documents, pictures, newspaper articles and personal memorabilia since 1945 and graciously shared them to prepare this book. That collection spans 53 years. This portfolio was used to prepare SAVING SEAMAN STUART, along with an article by Walter E. Smith and the book called, THE FRANKLIN COMES HOME, by A. A. Hoehling.
This is a story of what World War II was about, and every effort should be made to chronicle events so that maybe someday war will be totally out of the question. Seven hundred and twenty four men died on that day of disaster aboard the USS Franklin, CV -13, that was sent to the South Pacific to protect our USA Homeland from Japanese Warlords. Their total casualties for those weeks of combat were nine hundred and twenty one dead. The Franklin’s crew remains to this day, some fifty three years later, the most decorated crew in the history of the United States Navy. The ship was nicknamed BIG BEN by those who were closest to her–the crew.
It gives me a great deal of gratification to organize, interpret and prepare this book, SAVING SEAMAN STUART, as a tribute to my older brother for his service to our Country.
-Curtiss N. Stuart
August 21, 1998
Assignment To The USS Franklin Warship
Before I get going on the USS Franklin legend, I must say that the fastest days of my life happened on that seven day leave at home in Dayton, Ohio, but I did get around to see everyone possible before leaving for ship duty and war.
I think it’s best now to describe my ship, nicknamed Big Ben by the crew in honor of Benjamin Franklin, so that you can better relate to rest of my story. The Franklin’s legend began on December 7, 1942, which is the first anniversary of the dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese warlords. Big Ben’s’ keel was laid in a graving dock of the Newport News Shipbuilding Company on Virginia’s Atlantic Coast, representing President Roosevelt’s commitment of one year earlier, when he said, “No matter how long it may take us, America, in its righteous might, will overcome and win through to absolute victory.” Big Ben was the fifth ship of the Essex class to be constructed and before the War ended, nineteen more Essex class carriers would be built and put in service. That’s an average of six ships constructed per year by the American industrial complex.
Newport News shipbuilders completed the Franklin in just fifteen months, which is an amazing feat, considering the size and complexity of its design. She had an overall length of 970 feet, with an 880 feet long flight deck that was 150 feet wide and stood 60 feet above the sea. Her fuel tanks held 231,00 gallons of gasoline for the airplanes, along with 7,000 tons of oil for her own boilers. She had eight boilers that could fire up enough steam to power four turbines that delivered 150,000 horsepower to the four driving
propellers. I estimated our forward speed then at fifty miles an hour, which is not a nautical term, but just imagine this ship moving down a highway at freeway speeds with the rest of the cars. It was faster than many destroyers and battle cruisers of that day and time. During combat flight operations, while steering into the wind for takeoffs, Big Ben would move at forty knots,
which is much faster than all the ships in the Battle. Group 58.3. So, we literally ran away from our buddies. I know from experience that you could easily get blown off the forward flight deck at those speeds and it was
necessary to hold a line or rail up there.
So, this was my home in the war along with 2,500 other enlisted men and officers, not to mention another 1,000 men of the air group.
Big Ben held a complement of 103 airplanes made up of bombers, fighters and torpedo planes. The names I remember were the SBD Helldivers, F4F Wildcat, F4U Corsair, the F6F Hellcat and the TBM Avenger.
As a young and inexperienced recruit with just seven to eight weeks in bell-bottoms, I boarded Big Ben with wonderment and pride in December, 1944 at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard, west of Seattle, Washington.
My regular duty station was in the Chaplin’s Office and the Education office, which included the crew’s library. I assisted with arrangements and setups for Chaplin Harkin’s, Chaplin Joseph O’Callahan’s and the Jewish Sabbath services, and did the clerical work for the three faiths on board.
My daily shipboard watches were spent on the Bridge, which is the ship’s command post. The responsibility of the duty frightened me at first, but I was fascinated at seeing the “Brain” of the ship and being a part of that. I was completely determined to learn that job and do my very best.
My battle station, where I was called for torpedo defense or General Quarters, was on the hangar deck on the starboard side of the ship, which was also frightening and a learning experience. I was located at the Battle Dressing Station, amidship, where I reported battle injuries and battle conditions to the Command Post on the Bridge. The hangar deck was just below the main flight deck where the planes were launched.
By February 21, 1944, Big Ben was ready to be thrust into the battles of the war that were designed to push the Japanese warlords back to their mainland, island by island and cave by cave. The ship was to be a big part of that effort and the crew knew that. The sun shown brightly as the tugs eased Big Ben into Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay. The ship was so large and noticeable that it was impossible to sneak out, but the behemoth was soon gone and out of sight of land. The bon voyage ceremonies were somber and very military and there was no time for looking back now.
I often recall the shock that this navy ship-board service was “for real” and it called for the absolute requirement to mature quickly, and to realize the
seriousness of the times. During those December and January shake-down and training exercises, my mates and I watched in horror as some planes, leaving the deck on take-off, would falter and fall into the ocean. Some crashed into the ship’s island structure or into the flight deck while attempting landings. We saw death and serious injury to pilots or crew members.
Being connected with the Chaplain’s Office, I participated in the early burials at sea. In fact, during early March, 1944, fourteen men died on one day and
were sea entombed. The first time I saw a flag-draped body in a sewed-up sea bag, weighted with a shell casing, and as the body was angled to the sea and the flag became limp, I had to choke down strong emotions. Captain James Shoemaker and the crew could not ever imagine that this beautiful, lumbering, yet quick, powerful war machine would falter. They had the very
same feelings, I’m sure, as did the crew and passengers of the RMS Titanic as they left England on the ship’s ill- fated maiden voyage to New York. The crew truly believed Big Ben was invincible and had enough escort and firepower to subdue any enemy. The best ship, officers, aircraft and crew were now put together for war. It was comforting for them to keep thinking and repeating that message.
Weeks of Combat and the Disaster
On October 30, 1944, just before I was stationed on the USS Franklin, She was hit by Japanese Kamikaze** aircraft and sent back to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard for repairs. There, Captain Shoemaker was relieved by Captain Leslie E. Gehres and Air Group 5 replaced Air Group 13. As stated before, I also joined Big Ben’s crew there in Bremerton in December, 1944. After repairs were completed, we were ordered to rejoin the “Fast Carrier Task Force” operating off the coast of the Japanese Mainland.
So, here we are at the very door step of the enemy, with orders to attack everything we could find and shoot at, as well as bomb Japan. From mid-January until March, 1945, Big Ben operated in war zones in the Central and North Western Pacific. We participated in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa with supporting air strikes. We made air attacks near Guam. In early March, Big Ben was bombing the Japanese Mainland, including the Kobe Naval and Air Base, Kyushu Military Air Installations and Tokyo proper. We participated in the fire- bombing of Tokyo as a part of Task Force 58.3. Admiral Spruance was on board as Big Ben was the Flag of the largest task force ever assembled by the United States Navy.
After weeks of intense combat in this location, the Japanese Warlords became desperate as they couldn’t drive us away, and again called on their Kamikaze** pilots for the suicide type of warfare. ** Kamikaze means “divine wind” in their language. These pilots were treated to a ceremonial send-off with a toast of rice wine, then given just enough fuel to reach the
target with their overload of bombs. Their only option was to fly into our ships. Some of them flew upside down to die in style while trying to hit us at the water line. Others dove in with wings vertical and some came straight down from overhead in their suicidal attacks. Our guns were blazing away during most of the daylight hours and we were exhausted, hungry and bone tired fending off these constant air attacks. It didn’t seem like there was ever enough time to eat or rest.
The day before our disaster, Franklin’s air squadrons joined raids on Kagoshima and Izumi. All night, the crew answered general quarters alarms–a dozen calls to battle stations.
Early the next day, which was the fateful date of March 19, 1945, our air scouts reported seeing the battleship Yamamoto, the largest warship in the world, and the carrier Amagi in Kobe Harbor. Some Corsairs were hurriedly outfitted with armor-busting Tiny Tim rockets to attack the Yamamoto and the Amagi. As the flights lifted off, there was time at last for chow. The breakfast queue of weary crew snaked from the galley up a ladder to the open door at the hanger deck, just under the flight deck. It wound around and among the battle-primed aircraft, waiting ordnance and refueling lines. Messmen slapped powdered eggs, toast, apples, tomato juice and coffee on the steel trays for the exhausted crew.
On the flight deck, just below on the hanger deck, waited scores of our fighters, bombers and torpedo planes armed with bombs, rockets and bullets, and fat with high-octane aviation fuel.
Suddenly, a single Japanese Judy dive bomber screamed out of a low winter cloud and sped for our ship. The Judy, as we called this Japanese aircraft, had shaken one of our Hellcats that tried to stop her-though our pilot had shot his machine guns empty trying to knock the Judy down. Too late, then our 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns on the carriers bow began throwing flack at the intruder. The Judy reached its release point and dropped one 500 pound bomb on the flight deck of the Franklin, then returned a second time dropping another near the first. The flagship of Task Force 58 became the anteroom of Hell! The Judy intruder had been spotted by Franklin’s Combat Information Center orbiting on port beam about twelve miles out from the
ship, but lost the attacker in the clutter of launching our own planes.
The first bomb struck the flight deck on the centerline at 7:06 am, and ripped below, igniting gasoline and ordnance in a flash of flame and concussion. It incinerated some men where they stood in chow line and blasted others out the hanger doors into the sea. The thirty-two ton forward aircraft elevator blew into the air and fell back onto the holocaust. The blast drove the 21,000 ton ship out of the water and whipped her to the right. She began to settle into a thirteen degree starboard list. Steel floors and bulkheads buckled, crushing men between them. Steel pipes burst, spilling most of the ship’s 230,000 gallons of high-octane fuel and 7,000 more gallons of boiler fuel oil. Falling cascades of burning fuel angled over the sides into the ocean. Fires erupted on the second and third decks down from flight deck. Explosions wiped out the Combat Information Center and the Airplot function.
The second bomb hit aft among thirty-one SBD Helldivers, F4U Corsairs and TBM Avengers warming up for takeoff. The impact ripped through the flight deck planking, setting fires two decks down and detonating more bombs, rockets and fuel. Pilots died strapped in their cockpits. Fleeing crewmen ran into spinning propeller blades. Others were cut down by scythes of metal and chunks of airframes flying off exploding planes. Rockets and the powerful Tiny Tims launched themselves across the listing flight deck.
One of Franklin’s pilots aloft, Lt. Linder, didn’t know his ship had been hit, but swinging his F4U downwind, he picked up the fleeing Judy and, “Fired on him pretty good!” “I picked him up again and we went together into a little cloud, flying side by side, like I was flying wing on him. Both of us were inverted over on our backs. Then, I saw the Judy fall out of the cloud and dive right into the water.”
The attack killed 724 men and wounded 265 more, which is about a third of the number lost in the dastardly raid on Pearl Harbor. In a matter of minutes,
the Franklin was more heavily damaged than any other American carrier to stay afloat. What was left of the 3,500 men complement of the Franklin crew set to work saving themselves and their ship.
Up on the Franklin’s forecastle, Chaplain O’Callahan and his party were away from the major damage area, so O’Callahan detoured to his own room
for a life jacket, his helmet, and a vial containing holy water to administer last rites. Then he went to the aviator’s bunk room to care for thirty badly burned men. Chaplain Gatlin was already there, so 0’Callahan, after assisting with the most seriously wounded men, left to find others in stress. O’Callahan found the ship’s doctor, Sam Sherman on the forward flight deck, tending to a large number of wounded, and the Chaplain ordered seaman below to bring mattresses. In one of the five-inch gun turrets, O’Callahan helped pass hot shells outside so they could be dumped in the sea.
He stayed until the last shell was heaved overboard. After finishing there, he went through smoky passageways and helped clear hot bombs from the
Chaplain O’Callahan was a hero and earned a Medal of Honor for his actions. See Chapter 6 for his Citation of Bravery. One very famous ship photograph shows O’Callahan giving last rites to Robert Blanchard, who
later miraculously recovered from his wounds, went on to live a long life, then later attended the fiftieth Memorial Reunion of the disaster on March 19, 1995. Another determined officer was Lt.jg Donald Gary, a thirty year veteran and former enlisted man. When the bombs hit, Gary grabbed an oxygen breathing apparatus, with a sixty minute air supply and searched
for trapped shipmates. He found plenty–three hundred of them, including Dr. Fuelling, another ship’s doctor. Gary went four, five and six decks below looking for trapped men, with only limited air supply. At one point, he led ten men, six hundred feet through air uptakes, six decks above where they were trapped, and returned to pull fifty more men, then returned again to get two hundred more. After all that, Gary headed below to see about his engines. Lt. Gary was a hero and earned a Medal of Honor for his actions. See Chapter 6 for his Citation of Bravery.
Rear Admiral Ralph Davison transferred his flag from the Franklin to the Cruiser Santa Fe, and as he left, he recommended to Captain Leslie Gehres to give the order to abandon ship. Gehres said afterward, “That was none of his damn business!” “I had no intention of abandoning the ship.”
The Cruiser Santa Fe came along the starboard side, pushed her bow against the Franklin’s hull and took off survivors. The destroyer, Hikox nosed in under the stern and took off more. Gehres evacuated 883 non-
essential and wounded crew members. The remaining 106 officers and 604 enlisted men put out the fires and garnered a tow from the cruiser, Pittsburgh at about noon. The bow winches used for towing were destroyed so a party led by Seaman Joe Taylor, equipped themselves with cutting torches and set about cutting off the ship’s anchor. The idea was to dump the anchor overboard and use the 540 foot chain as a towline.
It worked! That tow was vital as the Franklin continued to drift closer to Japan. The tow started at only three knots, but was increased to four when the Franklin crew got limited power restored, and later the tow reached nine knots.
That evening when enough steam supply had been restored to make fourteen knots of speed, the tow as jettisoned and the Franklin made its own way to the Port of Ulithi Atoll to secure temporary repairs, food and medical supplies. She arrived at Ulithi on Sunday, March 25, 1945. Father O’Callahan led memorial services for the dead, while battle hardened sailors
openly wept. Almost one-fourth of their shipmates were buried in the open waters of the South Pacific Ocean.
On the following morning, the Franklin sailed under her own power for Pearl Harbor, and upon arrival there, it was determined that the repairs would have to be done at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. So, the Franklin left Pearl Harbor on April 9, on its way through the Panama Canal. She passed the Statue of Liberty on April 30, with all hands on deck standing at salute. Upon arrival at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Franklin mustered its remaining band members, who played the song–“Don’t Fence Me In” for the waiting visitors on the dock. The 12,000 mile journey ended for the most
heavily damaged warship in the history of the Navy to ever make it back to port under her own power.
The Franklin was completely repaired over the next year, and after repairs, she was reported to be in the best condition of any Essex Class carrier. But, in April, 1946, the Navy announced that the Franklin would placed in mothball storage, and she was officially retired on February 17,1947. Twenty years later, in 1966, after a group of Franklin survivors failed to have the ship declared a monument in New York, she was destroyed by cutter’s torches, much to the consternation of many crew members. Her steel was sold to the former enemy that tried to destroy her.
Here is the ship’s log of data for her service–
Keel laid December 7, 1942
Launched October 14, 1943
Commissioned January 31, 1944
Enemy Aircraft destroyed 628
Ships sunk or damaged 158
Island invasions Four
Medals earned 660
Retired February 17, 1947
In the early 1990’s, a spouse of one of those ill- fated pilots caught in their planes during the attack, called me. She related that her husband’s plane was
blown off the ship into the sea, upside down with the wings torn off. He survived the day, but never recovered from the injuries, dying some eighteen
Saving Seaman Stuart
So, that’s what happened to my beloved ship. Now let’s recount what happened to me personally starting with daylight on March 19, 1945. At 6:15, when the latest General Quarters(immediate call to combat) was secured, I went below to the Chaplain’s office. I was just too exhausted to have breakfast, even though I had not eaten for a day or more. That could have saved my life as many were lost in the breakfast chow line when the
For quite some time, I stretched out on two chairs. There were several other men in the Office reading, resting and meditating with their own private thoughts. There was a frightening explosion at 7:08 am, and the ship began a slow list to starboard, then secondary explosions began, one after another. I was thrown across the room against the bulkhead and lay crumpled on the deck for a moment. I could hear no ship’s communication. Then, someone came by and said we were hit by Japanese planes and there were terrible fires on the topside decks. We all headed for our battle stations, but I do not recall hearing the call to General Quarters until much later. On the way out, I grabbed a towel and soaked it in the water cooler, then urged the others to get something wet.
We rushed out, but could not get far because of the intense heat and thick, black smoke in the passageway. There were about twenty-five of us groping in the smoke filled hallway, and I was the tenth man in line. We descended one or two decks trying to find a safe topside opening to escape the smoke, heat and explosions. We were unable to do much or travel very far until about 8:20 am, when we finally worked our way aft and onto the fantail deck at the stern. The conditions here were unbelievably horrible. Smoke
and fire were everywhere. Forty millimeter ammunition was exploding just above us on a gun mount and the oil-soaked tub winches were blazing away in fire. We couldsee the deadly events that had happened, and were still
happening, right before our eyes. Men were on fire, others had limbs torn or shredded, and ghastly things like faces were gone or heads blown off. We crouched or stretched out in gun mounts or behind other gear heavy enough to protect us from the flying shrapnel and smaller explosions. An explosion ripped off one side of my life preserver and something creased my battle
helmet and burned the right side of my face. A small piece of metal hit my hand.
We got a few reports from those men who had worked their way aft telling us of the horrifying, deadly conditions on the flight deck and the hanger deck, and the atmosphere of terror in the different crew quarters. The dead and wounded were all around us. Most of the wounded died in place, or later in the sea, and I remember one badly wounded man, who soon perished, asking the Chief for a smoke. We saw men caught in the oil-fed flames in the sea, while others struggled to reach debris, and others just slipped from sight. Scores died in our view.
The Chief held us together as a unit with his leadership and experience at sea. To this day, he seems to be ten feet tall in my thoughts, outwardly oblivious to the horror going on around us. By mid-morning, there were eighteen of us remaining on the burning fantail deck, but men were leaving the ship from our group after each explosion or flame up of fire, or when
the smoke became unbearable for them.
We watched the Cruiser Santa Fe come alongside and our men scramble to leave. Lines were attempted between us and the Pittsburgh, the Santa Fe and the Alaska as they came in close to assist, but the explosions were too intense and the decks of the ships didn’t fit. We knew of our ship’s demise and we heard that orders were given to abandon ship.
The ship began settling, followed by a deathly shuddering and a serious starboard listing (later determined to be thirteen degrees), then secondary
explosions slapped us again. Black smoke enveloped the fantail deck we were occupying. It was time to leave! By now, there were only six men left alive in our location. Three of us left the ship at 10:45 am by climbing down a rope and falling the remaining forty feet into the burning, turbulent ocean.
The three sounds I remember at this time were the Japanese planes buzzing around eager to join in the finale, the plopping and splashing of shells and bullets in the sea, and the roar of gunfire. No one thought that we, or the ship, would survive the fall of night. Being saved was all I could think of now, but the odds of that were not good in the middle of the fracas out here.
So, now I had chosen between the dubious security that the ship offered and those perils that awaited in the burning-oil encrusted Pacific Ocean. The ship was clearly more hazardous than leaping into the water, but it was too late now as I flew through the smoke filled air. Looking back at the circumstances, the right decision was made because there was no other realistic option.
When I hit the water from that distance, my torn life preserver tangled in the battle helmet and was choking me. I nearly drowned right where I jumped.
Underwater, I removed the steel helmet, kicked off my shoes and followed the torn preserver to the surface for a desperate breath. In a few moments, I was able to see my new dilemma. At that frightening moment, the ship was floating rapidly away, listing ominously and trailing smoke. It was like seeing my companion and my security moving quickly away. I wanted to reach out
and pull her back to me like a toy sailboat.
Several of our ships, who seemed to be firing at everything and nothing at the same time, were trying to save the Franklin from sinking. Shells and shrapnel were splashing like hail in a thunderstorm, and my helmet protection was gone. I fully expected to see the Franklin turn over and go to the bottom.
After about two hours in the water, my state of fatigue was becoming overwhelming, and my morale was low as different ships, destroyers and the heavy cruisers–Pittsburgh and Santa Fe passed me by without rescue attempts. The end seemed to be quite possible now as time passed and the fatigue factor worsened. The thought crossed my brain that maybe I should have stayed with the ship and taken those chances. Then, I started to worry about myself not making it instead of trying my best to fight the circumstances. Again, I made myself some promises to keep if survival was to be my destiny today.
I remember, while partially floating and moving around in the water early on, helping a badly burned sailor over to some wooden wreckage and making sure he was reasonably secure there. Later on in the morning, when I was more scared and tired, and my judgement was focusing only on my own survival, a man in the water with nothing, started wildly grabbing at me and my ripped life preserver. We both would have gone down, so I told him to move away, which seemed to bring him to his senses, because he quickly
drifted by and then grabbed some cork or wood life equipment floating in this “junk yard like” littered sea. He made it safely, but, often I have agonized over my selfish action. My thoughts later were that my father, mother and brothers wouldn’t be too proud of their Navy Boy.
Being in the sea, with ships passing by, oil fires blazing, bodies and body parts floating and debris of everything imaginable bobbing up and down, was absolutely frightening to me, even though I believed I’d make it through somehow. There were planes above, raucous, on-going gun fire, mixed in with the thundering of big guns. I knew we were within a few miles from the coast of Japan and thoughts of being picked up by an enemy boat, leading to my imprisonment or death, spanned the gamut of my chilling thoughts. I remembered an incident with a Japanese flyer, who was being pulled up to safety on one of our ships, suddenly pulling a knife and slashing an American sailor, which then brought on the flyer’s hasty demise by being shot several times at point blank range by our sailors.
Then, as if a dream could come true, the destroyer USS Hickox, DD673, steamed over into our area, her guns blazing away, as she fished our small group from the water. I tried to wave my presence to her, but could not muster the strength. It wasn’t necessary, as her crew had spotted me and threw things to latch onto. Those men in the water, who didn’t have the physical strength for rescue, just slipped quietly away at the last minute. I was pulled aboard the Hickox at 12:35 pm, but was no help to my rescuers because there was no physical strength left. I could not have survived another thirty minutes in the water.
The Hickox made only one rescue pass then steamed back to its battle position and resumed the raucous firing of its cannons and rapid-fire anti-
aircraft guns. The noise on this small ship was deafening, but she was my new home and I loved her for the relative security she offered my worn out body. I felt so safe and was so very grateful for being saved by
the brave crew.
The remainder of that day was hellish for these men. I have to mention again the roaring of the planes’ engines diving to attack, mixed in with the booming of the five inch guns and the staccato banging of the thirty and forty millimeter quads, firing incessantly. The Hickox zigged and zagged, but she took several cannon hits and smaller weapons fire, and would shudder ominously. The Hickox crew members were, in every sense, brave and performed amazing feats worthy of any proud fighting ship. I learned later that she rescued 400 members of the Franklin crew.
So, the Hickox was hit several times before darkness fell, but I had already thrown in my lot with her and would stay aboard no matter what. I felt very
old for my short eighteen years of life. The bunk, the coffee, the stale sandwich and the dry blanket were all I needed for that night.
My morale was high again with the better prospects of surviving this day. I was wounded in the arm and hand with shrapnel and burned on the side of the face, but right now that did not seem to matter much. I had been saved! I want to take this opportunity to thank them again, each and all, for saving me and tending to my urgent needs.
Several days later the remaining survivors of the disaster of the Franklin, including myself, were regrouped at Ulithi Atoll located halfway between Guam and the Philippine Islands. There, we were loaded onto a converted LST troop ship, already over-crowded by marines just returning from the Iwo lima and Saipan invasions. Then the long, slow journey back to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii began on this ship, which I called a scow, rather than a ship. It was obvious that we were still in the war zone, as we encountered three enemy submarine alerts and had almost no fire power to resist. Once, we were dead in the water for quite some time when the engines stopped. Another time, the scow suffered a cracked main beam member in the hull, and we were again dead in the open sea for hours. The feeling of just sitting out there with no power or guns is terrifying helplessness.
So often rare coincidences occur at such times in war zones. At Ulithi Atoll and on board the LST scow, I met up with three Daytonians. As the journey began back to Pearl Harbor, on the very first day, I saw Jack Creegar, a Fairmont High School classmate, who had joined the Navy before graduating. Jack’s job on Big Ben was in the forward S-inch pod’s magazine doing shell handling. Then, I met Vern Wilken, several years my senior. Vern was very popular, yet serious minded, Activities Petty Officer. Later, I met Bennett Coy, Marines Ship Company, on the Franklin, who also joined our “exclusive Dayton Club”. After pulling into Pearl, we stayed together during our thirty day furlough, then all shipped out to different assignments in Hawaii, and finally on to the Mainland USA. Ben, Jack and Vern all passed on during the 1980’s.
So, we finally got the scow to Pearl Harbor in one piece and celebrated the aura of being safe again in the lap of Uncle Sam and savoring a few luxuries missing for a number of months. After a thirty day rest and relaxation respite on Hawaii’s beaches, I was reassigned to Barber’s Point Naval Air Station there as a Yeoman in the Education office, and remained there until the war ended. I earned two promotions while there and was “striking” for Petty Officer, 2nd Class as the next jump. Station. My morale has improved considerably by this time.
I, then received a thirty day survivors leave and headed home to the United States mainland. The final stage of my naval service included a stint back at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago in the Discharge Unit as a Petty Officer, 2nd Class.
Many times, I was asked to sign up for more service time, and perhaps I should have done that. Private industry does not offer the high points of honor, glory and the rewards of military service dedicated to the protection of our country and our people.
I do remain determined to follow the glory of the Franklin disaster, and to do my best to maintain her memory and legacy. Now, some fifty-three years later, I serve as Trustee of the Franklin Memorial Association, and I attend all the functions related to the honor of the crew and my ship. My wife, Beth and my sons, James and William have each taken part in the memorial celebrations and the plaque dedications held over the past years.
Recognition and Historical Events
In May, 1945, the Navy released information to the public about the catastrophe, and bold headlines blared the story of the crew’s fight against the raging fires to stay afloat and to reach safe port. Surviving crew members became heroes. On May 21, the largest mass award ceremony in naval history took place on the Franklin’s damaged flight deck at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The decorations presented for personal gallantry and valor included two Medals of Honor, nineteen Navy Crosses, twenty-two Silver Stars, one hundred and ten Bronze Stars, five Gold Stars, eight hundred and sixty posthumous Purple Hearts, two hundred and fifty Purple Hearts for wounds and two hundred and thirty- three Letters of Commendation. The Franklin’s crew remains to this day, the most decorated crew in the history of the United States Navy.
Chaplain Joseph 0′ Callahan became the only Navy chaplain in the war to win his nation’s highest decoration–the Congressional Medal of Honor. In part, his citation said–” A valiant and forceful leader, calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lieutenant Commander 0’Callahan groped his way through smoke filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever increasing fury, he ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led fire fighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts,
despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them.”
Chaplain 0′ Callahan formed the “704 CLUB” made up of the 704 men left out of 3,200, who brought the ship back to port.
Lieutenant JG Donald Gary was the second recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. According to his Citation– “Gary unhesitatingly risked his life to assist several hundred men trapped in a messing compartment filled with smoke, and with no apparent egress. As the imperiled men below decks became increasingly panic stricken under the raging fury of incessant explosions, he confidently assured them he would find a means of effecting their release and, groping through the dark, debris filled corridors, ultimately discovered an escape way. Staunchly determined, he struggled back to the messing compartment three times despite menacing flames, flooding water and the ominous threat of sudden additional explosions, on each occasion calmly leading his men through the blanketing pall of smoke until the last one had been saved. Selfless in his concern for his men and his fellows, he constantly rallied others about him, repeatedly organized and led fire-fighting parties into the blazing inferno on the flight deck and, when firerooms one and two were found to be inoperable, entered the number three fireroom and directed the raising of steam in one boiler in the face of extreme difficulty and hazard.” Lt. Gary was also a resident of Ohio, being from the Findlay vicinity.
The battle flag flying on the USS Franklin on the date of March 19, 1945 was rescued and is on display in it’s own compartment in the Franklin Room on the USS Yorktown at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. It remains to this day an honored rallying point for those crew members who survive some fifty four years after the disaster.
Two Franklin related ships emerged on the scene in the years after World War II–the Frigate 0′ Callahan and the Guided Missile Frigate Gary. Both ships were named for the Medal of Honor winners and heroes of the
On March 11, 1987, President Ronald Reagan, on the eve of the ship’s annual reunion, sent this letter to those gathered for the celebration–
“I am proud to send greetings to the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13), “The Ship That Wouldn’t Die”, as you gather in reunion. No one who knows the history of our beloved country and the price paid by those who have sacrificed for our liberty–no one who reveres names like the Alamo, or Old Ironsides, or Concord Bridge– will ever forget you men of the FRANKLIN and the valor that was yours. Suffering repeated attacks and grievous casualties in the crucible that was the Pacific Theater in World War II, you made duty and courage your way of life as you contributed greatly to our victory.
Your chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Joseph 0′ Callahan, SJ, USNR, and Lieutenant JG Donald Gary received medals of honor for their valor; and, as the number of decorations the rest of you won indicates, they were by no means alone in heroism. Among those decorations were 808** Purple Hearts awarded posthumously. I take a moment with you to honor your shipmates who can no longer report for muster. They, and you, will be remembered by the generations of your countrymen. God bless you, and God bless America.”
(** On July, 1994, the Navy revised this to 925
(Signed) Ronald Reagan
In October, 1987, I, and my family–Beth, son James and son William were among the two hundred and forty crew members, friends and family who gathered for a memorial plaque dedication aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown moored at Charleston, South Carolina. These were called the Arlington Exhibit Memorial Plaques. The Franklin has more names in memorial there than any of the other 104 ships represented there in the Exhibit. Survivors were asked to pen their memories and reactions to the disaster, which have now become a part of that permanent memorial. A major Franklin Plaque Dedication was held on March 19, 1993 in Garden Grove, California at the Commander Donald A. Gary Bi -Centennial Mall. The dedication was sponsored by THE USS FRANKLIN CV -13 MUSEUM ASSOCIATION, INC. The names of the 913 men who lost their lives on the Franklin along with two Medal of Honor recipients are etched in the granitestone markers located there.
On September 22, 1995, the United States Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base unveiled the Franklin Memorial stonework and double plaque in memory of those who lost their lives and those who survived. This was the first ever naval combat unit to be honored and positioned at the Museum which is located in Dayton, Ohio. I was pleased to take part in the dedication as a Memorial Dedication Leader, and I called the attending shipmates to step forward and observe the unveiling.
March 19, 1995, was the fiftieth anniversary of the Franklin disaster. This important reunion held at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, started the evening of March 17 and continued throughout the weekend. Most wives have been to reunions like this before and they have become part of the ship’s family. Grand children present lent a beautiful innocence to the occasion, marveling once again at the stories they have heard so many times.
Story groups split off in their rooms and flurries of signs dotted the hotel lobby. No one tires in the telling or hearing the tales of that fateful day in 1945, especially when there were new listeners present at this gathering.
It was a grand day at Patriots Point–warm and sunny, as we and other Franklin crewmen walked down the long pier toward the Yorktown, who is an Essex class sister ship to the Franklin. For this occasion the Yorktown’s island structure displayed the markings CV- 13 in honor of Franklin’s numbers. It was very emotional, like seeing a ghost of the Franklin and several were sobbing at seeing CV-13 on the tower. It was hard for me to speak for a moment. The Museum had arranged for interviews, videos and television coverage all day on Saturday. We were invited to follow the full length of Lieutenant Donald Gary’s escape route as he had led three hundred men from below decks through an air vent way to safety. On Saturday, everyone met at the Arlington Exhibit on the Yorktown for the personal, but public, interview sessions of survivors and family members of those who did not survive the tragedy. Nearby the Arlington Plaques is a scale model of the Franklin, blackened and modified to show the battle damage. What really mattered on this day was not the Franklin’s well known history, but the people and their personal stories. This event may well be the last reunion for many a Franklin shipmate.
The reunion also brought proud visits to the Franklin Room, which is a special display area with prized exhibits located several decks below the Yorktown’s hangar deck. Located there, along with many, many other treasures, are Franklin’s battle flag, Father 0′ Callahan’s helmet and rosary, and Lieutenant Gary’s uniform. The Franklin Room and the Arlington Exhibit are the two main rallying points for crew members to reminisce and exchange their tales. I heard some discussion about placing everyone’s name on the Plaques, but that conversation got lost somewhere in the crowd’s enthusiasm. Curator Steve Ewing manages to find amazing additions to the Franklin Room year after year.
By late afternoon on Saturday, everyone had traipsed back to the hotel for the annual meeting. It was a traditional sort of gathering, with laughter and
teasing to and from the podium intermingled with tedious administrative announcements. By now, the crew–some in wheelchairs, or leaning on canes, and others seemingly well fit–were sporting “Franklin 50th” hats and shirts. It was bedlam of the finest kind and soon the reunion business was completed in time to dress for dinner. The Patriot Point staff members wanted to meet with families of those killed in action, and a large gathering began to form in one corner of the auditorium. Franklin families gathered the next morning on Sunday on Yorktown’s hangar deck for final remarks by Chigger Tidwell and Patriots Point Rear Admiral Jim Flatley. This was indeed a big day for all. The reunion ended with a Memorial Service.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, the State of Ohio House of Representatives and the Senate of Ohio both issued proclamations honoring the crew members of the Franklin.
The Ohio House of Representatives issued a
commendation to me–
REPRESENTATIVE RAYMOND E. SINES
HOUSE DISTRICT # 61
“On behalf of the members of the House of, Representatives of the 119th General Assembly of Ohio, we are pleased to recognize- JAMES M. STUART, YN 2/C K-DIV. as a surviving crew member of the USS Franklin, CV -13. You are, indeed, a remarkable individual for you have demonstrated determination and courage in meeting life’s challenges. A member of the crew of the USS Franklin during World War II, you survived the Japanese attack which left seven hundred forty-three crew members dead and caused massive damage to your ship. The exemplary spirit and strength of character which you displayed in the face of such a disaster earned you well deserved respect and admiration.
America has maintained its strength through the dedicated efforts of individuals such as you who have demonstrated allegiance to the ideals of democracy and unwavering love of country. The heroic traditions of our armed forces are an important part of American history, and you can be proud of the role you have played in sustaining the United States’ strength and freedom. Thus, with great pride, we commend you for your outstanding record of personal achievement and, in so doing, salute you as one of Ohio’s finest citizens.”
( Speaker of House)
There was just one more thing on the occasion of Franklin’s 50th anniversary reunion. In the waters off the coast of Japan, thousands of miles away from Patriots Point, the cruiser Bunker Hill was steaming to the exact map coordinates of the Franklin disaster. At very nearly the same time that ceremonies were concluding at Patriots Point, Bunker Hill stopped its engines and drifted at the same latitude and longitude where the Franklin met her disaster. Bunker Hill’s commanding officer, Captain Schnurrpusch led his
crew in a memorial service in the honor of the 802 men who lost their lives there. He remarked– “What they did was excel courageously in the face of incredible peril. What they are, are our forefathers and our colleagues in
this profession of arms. Please join me in a moment of memorial and remembrance to the men of Franklin, and to the ultimate sacrifices that many of them gave for us all–on this spot, at this time, 50 years ago.”
By coincidence, Captain Schnurrpusch had just a few years ago commanded the frigate 0’Callahan and the guided missile frigate Gary. Both ships were named after the two Congressional Medal of Honor winners from the Franklin.
On October 31, 1997, the Great Lakes Naval Museum in Great Lakes, Illinois held its grand opening celebration. At that time, a dedication of name plaques of the USS Franklin crew was held and the plaques became an important part of the new museums holdings.
In late 1969, some twenty four years after the combat disaster, I learned while working in Washington, DC, at the White House, that the USS Franklin was in the Newport News/Portsmouth, Virginia area awaiting scrapping and demolition. So, shortly afterward, our family began searching for Big Ben in earnest. We found her, or what was left of her, in a meandering ship channel near Portsmouth, Virginia. My sons-Jim and Bill were fascinated with the sighting, even though it had to be at some distance. I had mixed emotions in that it was great to find the ship again and get a last look, but again, sad at the fate of what had been a large source of pride for so many crew members.
Over the years, our family journeyed, and usually stopped at various Revolutionary War sites, Civil War sites and other significant military memorials and museums. Our sons were always exposed to important national holidays and their meanings along with the sacrifices that were made for our country’s freedom and its people. While we were at Patriots Point participating in the Franklin Memorial celebration aboard the sister ship, the Yorktown, I walked them through my battle experiences on Big Ben. The walk-through left a deep, sobering impression on each son. As a result, Jim and Bill have always been very interested, and have demonstrated a deep respect for our military and its role for America. I believe it’s crucial that all our young citizens, not just my family, take an interest and investigate the military history of our country with the true perspective of the protection of our country and our people, and not just accept what the TV and newspapers show daily about the world scene.
Over the years, I have routinely appeared before classrooms with students of all ages and grade levels presenting the aspects of my navy war days, then
answering their questions. I guide and encourage school tours of important sites like the US Air Force Museum and others. For the past five years, I have been co-chairman of the BOYSTATE WEEKS at Bowling Green State University, where my American Legion Post 598, Kettering, Ohio awards four scholarships to local high schools. Also, our Post annually awards up to eight $1,000.00 scholarships from four South Dayton area high schools-Alter, Centerville, Fairmont and Oakwood. We interact with students as much as possible providing tours of our Post.
For more than twenty years, I served as a Trustee and Executive Committee member of the two Dayton Boys and Girls Clubs, following in the footsteps of my Dad. Often I was called on to speak before Career, Crafts and Development classes regarding Americanism, World War II history and Military career possibilities. Son Jim, representing the third generation of Jim Stuarts, is following me at the Boys and Girls Clubs. He is currently first vice-president.
Even as I finalize my thoughts for this book, my son Bill has arranged for me to speak about the story of the USS Franklin at his Centerville, Ohio Kiwanis Club during the month of May, 1999. I am pleased and honored to be asked to do that.
It is the responsibility of the military and our younger citizens to come together and bridge the gaps that may exist today. I try to do that and will continue to do so.
-Seaman Jim Stuart