John (Jack) Hensel dressed in flight gear. 1944.
Cover Photo: John (Jack) Hensel dressed in flight gear. 1944.



It has been my pleasure to help bring John (Jack) Hensel’s story to publication. His account brings a personal focus to the historic events of March 19, 1945 on board the USS Franklin. Jack tells a compelling narrative of a first-hand experience that needs to be told and retold. The Franklin is often referred to as “the ship that wouldn’t die.” While that is true for the ship, it isn’t for the over 3000 crew aboard her that fateful March 19 as over 800 were killed and another 200+ injured. Jack Hensel was among those wounded, and this is his story.

Debbie Horneski


Jack’s Story
Hickox Wounded Roster
The Valiant, Squadron VT5
Franklin Poem
Biographical Data
Tribute to Grandfather

On March 19, 1945, I was aboard the U.S.S Franklin. The events of that day led me to a
prolonged stay on a medical ship. I had plenty of time to think about the circumstances which brought me to this unexpected place. In my own words, this is my story.

I was inducted into the United States Navy on June 22, 1943. I received my high school diploma on June 23, 1943. I reported for naval duty on June 29, 1943. So, you see, they didn’t give me much time after my high school graduation. The navy wanted us badly!
My first duty was the naval station for boot camp at Sampson, New York. There I went through marching, swimming, discipline, calisthenics, medical physicals, shots, aptitude tests and interviews. It was also here that I volunteered to fly as an air crewman and given a flight physical which I passed.

I remember going to the chapel one week before graduation from boot camp. There they announced that all leaves were cancelled; usually we got a week leave after boot camp. I saw men coming out of the chapel crying. I started thinking that there was a big sea draft coming, and it surely was upsetting. We did get our leaves but after an extra week of training.

I was sent to Aviation Ordinance School in Memphis, Tennessee. I graduated in January 1944 and went to Airborne Radar Operations School at the same base. The school lasted about two weeks. I could have stayed on as an instructor, but I did not want to. Our instructor wanted to give it up at that time, and he had to look for someone to take his place.

I finished radar school and was sent to Hollywood, Florida for Aerial Gunnery School where we learned all about the 50-caliber machine gun, trap shooting for learning how to lead the targets, and operating the gun with the ball turret firing both at range targets and at targets being towed by planes.

After about six weeks of Aerial Gunnery School, I was sent to what the navy called operational training at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is where I started flying in TBF Avenger torpedo bombers and also where a lot of interesting things started happening. We were taken to a TBF that had crashed in the everglades. The plane didn’t burn but did sink nose-first into the mud, up to its wings. This sight was very scary.

At this point, I was assigned to a crew: a pilot, Ensign Fuller from Boston, Massachusetts; a radioman, Robert Jensen from Salt Lake City, Utah; and, myself, a turret gunner from Utica, New York. We would supposedly stay together throughout combat.

The first time in the TBF plane, at my position in the turret, I could observe the tail section very well. The engine was started and smoke poured down the side of the plane from the exhaust. The engine ran very rough on starting, and I could see the tail section shake and vibrate because of the engine running unevenly. I wondered, “What did I get myself into?” Once the engine warmed up, it ran smoothly. We took off, and it was excitingly pleasant.

We had many interesting flights practicing torpedo runs, gunnery firing at slicks in the sea and at targets being towed by another plane, navigation flights and glide bombing. Glide bombing was quite exciting. We would rise to about 10,000 feet, and the plane would nose over. So help me, we would dive at a vertical angle 90 degrees to the sea for a quite a length of time, and then pull out of the glide at about 1,000 feet. We practiced this quite often.

On one of the torpedo run flights, I asked the pilot for permission to operate the ball turret. I was just able to get into it because it’s like getting inside of a large ball. With the turret down and the 50 caliber machine gun pointed to the rear of the plane, I could easily get out of it by letting down an armor plate and dropping down into the radio man’s compartment. I turned on the turret, and it malfunctioned. The gun pointed straight up into the air perpendicular to the body of the plane, and it wouldn’t come down with the control. Here I was in the ball turret on my back with no way to get out, only possibly through the side panel. I reported this to the pilot, Fuller, and he asked if I wanted to go back to the base. I replied, “No, go on with the flight.” After about 1 1⁄2 hours, we landed back at Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station. The ground crew observed us landing with me still in that position and came right out to the plane. They took off the side panel of the turret and were able to wiggle me out of the turret. At my age then, 19, it did not bother me. Since I would get into the turret from the radioman’s compartment, my radioman, Robert Jensen, said, “Jack, if this same thing happens to the plane, don’t expect me to ride the plane down with you – I’m jumping.” I could never do this today because I couldn’t even fit into the turret. I don’t even think I could fit into the side opening of the plane into the radioman’s compartment.

On returning to the airfield and entering the landing circle, there is a point where the pilot puts down the retractable wheels and lowers the flaps to lower the speed and get additional lift. These are operated hydraulically. We had an exciting experience returning from a night flight. On entering the landing circle my pilot, Ensign Fuller, tried to lower the landing gears and flaps. There was a hydraulic leak; the wheels appeared to come partially down and one of the flaps came partially down. The flap acted as an aileron causing the plane to lurch to the side. My pilot was able to adjust with the regular ailerons. He stated later that he never takes his hands off the flap operating lever until they are completely down. Feeling the jolt of the plane, he quickly returned the lever to the flaps-up position and the plane resumed normal flight. If he hadn’t done this, the plane would have banked, lost speed, and dove to the ground. At this point, I remember flying over the Fort Lauderdale water tower. (You are that low when you are in the landing circle.) There was hydraulic fluid all over the plane. The pilot was instructed to gain altitude, dive the plane, and try to snap down the landing gear. He also had a hand pump in the cockpit to force the wheels down. He did this, and he made the same low passes over the Fort Lauderdale control tower. They observed this and instructed him to make a flaps-up landing which meant landing at a higher speed. We held our breath, and made the landing safely as we passed the rescue squad on the runway waiting for us. This was exciting, especially at night.

We graduated from operational training toward the end of May 1944. At graduation, the
crewmen proudly accepted their Air Crewmen Wings. Our crew was assigned to Torpedo Squadron 5 (VT-5), a part of Air Group Five.

Enlisted Men of VT 5 Torpedo Squadron. Photo courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Enlisted Men of VT 5 Torpedo Squadron. Photo courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

We were also given delayed orders for San Diego, California which meant we had about 30 days at home. During this time, the pilots were sent to the Great Lakes to practice carrier landings on a small carrier there. I arrived home for my leave on DE Day the beginning of June, the day of the invasion of Europe. After my leave, I went by train to San Diego, California where I met several crewmen including my radioman, Bob Jensen. We stayed at San Diego Naval Air Station (NAS) for one or two nights, and then received our orders to go to Alameda, California NAS where we would join our pilots and the rest of the VT-5 Torpedo Squadron. At the chow hall, I got my tray and food. I walked to a table, sat down, and looked across the table. Getting ready to sit opposite of me was an old family friend and a good friend of my brother Pete. We caught each other’s eye and hands came across the table; it was Alfred Camhellack. He said, “Jackie Hensel, what are you doing here?” I told him, and he seemed sorry to hear that I was an air crewman and would eventually be on an aircraft carrier. He had just come off the carrier USS Intrepid which was torpedoed by the enemy in the South Pacific. I went out that night with Al and a friend of mine, Dew Hontz. We had a few beers, talked about home, and returned to base in fairly good condition.

The VT-5 squadron stayed at Alameda for a short period of time and then was sent to Monterey NAS, California to begin our training as a group. When there was no fog, we would do a lot of flying. We stayed here for several weeks and then transferred to Santa Rosa NAS, California where we remained for our duration before boarding the carrier. We did go off to different bases: Eurica, California for rocket training and Modesto, California for night flying. We flew many navigational flights out to sea. One time we thought we saw the image of a submarine below the surface of the sea. I’m sure my pilot reported this, and it was investigated by surface craft. Another time we were far out to sea on a navigation flight, and we spotted a freighter headed toward San Francisco. My pilot passed over it but we didn’t have our IFF- a signal identifying you as a friend or foe. There were a couple of tracer shells fired in front of us as a warning. The crew on the freighter probably had a chuckle or they may have been jumpy just coming from a combat zone. The squadron did a lot of flying out of Santa Rosa practicing night flying, air group hops, navigation flights, etc. Ensign Fuller, my assigned pilot, developed knee problems and was transferred out of the squadron for other duty.

While waiting for my new pilot, I made a few flights with several pilots whose crewmen had not yet arrived. On one of these flights, we were the last to land with this particular plane. We landed in the morning, and there was a flight scheduled with this plane in the afternoon with another crew. When they returned to the airfield and got into the landing circle, the plane suddenly dove from this low altitude and crashed between two homes. The plane burned, killing the crew. The aircrew names were Klingman and Allman. The report said it was mechanical trouble. It probably occurred at the point where the wheels and flaps would be put down. I felt there may have been a hydraulic leak on one of the flaps that didn’t function. This acted as an aileron causing the pane to flip on its side, lose speed, and dive into the ground. I think of this frequently as a similar incident happened to me in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Lt. J. J. Gibson, my new pilot, arrived and I began flying steady with him. Also a new radioman, Louis Lyndenmeyer, was assigned. We had a lot of thrilling flights with him hedge-hopping at tree top level, flying along the seawall. I remember looking up at it and flying low over the San Francisco Bay and seeing a man fishing in a boat standing up looking at us- we were that low. Some farmers called in complaining about the hedge-hopping because we were disturbing their cows. On one occasion, we took off and gained just a few feet of altitude and the engines started skipping as we skimmed over the top of a chicken farm. I remember the chickens fluttering inside their coops. We were able to make it to an auxiliary airfield not far from the main field. It was found that the gasoline tank was partially filled with water because of condensation. It was cleared, and we flew back to the main base. We went to Modesto, California for night flying training practicing group flights on imaginary targets. The pilots, less the air crew, practiced night touch-and-go landings. On one warm night, we were standing as a group in front of the barracks when we heard the sound of a crash. We rushed to the runway and watched a plane burn; the pilot was killed. This left a terrifying impression on our minds. When we went to Modesto, we realized that night flying was really dangerous. Soon after, we were ordered to Eurica, California for training in firing five inch rockets from the plane. We were there for about two weeks and then returned to Santa Rosa.

I realized the time was approaching when I would be assigned to an aircraft carrier. In December 1944, I received a week’s leave just before Christmas. I did not have enough time to go home. My squadron yeoman friend, Gerald Nold, invited me to come home with him to Arkansas City, Kansas. To get there and return, we rode the train and hitch-hiked, often getting rides with truckers. I had a fine time meeting his family and girlfriend. (Nold was later killed at his station in the pilot’s ready room when we were hit by Japanese bombs on March 19, 1945.)

I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in San Francisco with another friend, Elmer Lowery, from Covington, Kentucky. (He was also killed on March 19, 1945.) We spent New Year’s Eve having dinner, visiting night clubs, and mixing with the crowds on Market Street there. On New Year’s Day, we went to the East-West shrine football game at Kesar Stadium in San Francisco. It was quite a sight with the crowd and the excitement of the game. I remember the street cars and people hanging on to the side and back of them to get to and from the game.

We spent most of January getting ready to go overseas, getting new planes, and other necessary gear. We went aboard an old carrier, the USS Ranger, out of San Francisco. We traveled out to sea getting used to carrier operations and life aboard a carrier.

Navy WAVE officers watch as the Franklin is floated out of her
building dock. October 14, 1943. Photo courtesy of Naval
History and Heritage Command.
Navy WAVE officers watch as the Franklin is floated out of her
building dock. October 14, 1943. Photo courtesy of Naval
History and Heritage Command.

We returned to Santa Rosa continuing air group flights and getting ready to board an
aircraft carrier. We boarded the USS Franklin he first week of February 1945 in Alameda, California. I remember pulling away from the dock and feeling the waving of the ship on the bay. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and a sailor’s girlfriend tossed part of her clothing which landed on the flight deck of the carrier. After leaving the Golden Gate Bay,
there were swells in the ocean causing sea sickness to many sailors until everyone got used to the swells. I remember having to lie on my bunk for a time on the bow end of the ship because lying down seemed to help the sickish feeling.

We got to go to Hawaii and docked at Ford Island and could see the hull of the USS
Arizona which had sunk because of the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack. We went
to Kaneohe NAS for continued training while the USS Franklin was being fitted for combat. We had several flights over the islands and the pilots practiced touch-and-go landings. This was also the Sea Bee base, and we had tremendous meals and spent time playing volleyball, softball and entertaining ourselves.

Crew of USS Franklin (CV-13). Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.
Crew of USS Franklin (CV-13). Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.

We boarded the USS Franklin around the first of March with a full complement of Air Group 5. The fighter squadron F4U Corsair fighter planes and some Marine Squadron were reminiscent of Pappy Boyington’s Black Sheep group. The bomber squadron VB5 was made up of SB2C Helldivers and my squadron VT5 the torpedo bomber squadron TBF Avengers. We performed many air group training missions and navigation flights on the way to Ulithi an anchorage where task groups assembled. We arrived at Ulithi early in March, the morning after a suicide plane struck a carrier, either the USS Randolph or the USS Hancock. We stayed at Ulithi one night and as far as I could see there were ships of all categories: troop ships, supply ships, tankers, battleships, carriers, destroyers, etc.

Torpedo Bomber Avenger Pilots on the deck of the Franklin a few weeks before the
Japanese hit. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Torpedo Bomber Avenger Pilots on the deck of the Franklin a few weeks before the
Japanese hit. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

We left Ulithi with carrier group 58.2 on our way to Japan to raid the main islands. We were the first ship to carry the new rocket called the Tiny Tim. These rockets were equivalent to the shell of a 16” gun fired from a battleship. On one of the first times I took off from the Franklin, I was catapulted. Our crew was not given any pre-warning. We were ordered from the ready room to report for a flight with our pilot and to be catapulted. There was no time to think about it. We boarded the plane and proceeded to catapult position. There were crewmen from the old VT5 squadron. These were men who had already been in combat duty. They were there to give us instructions on how to hold our heads at the moment of takeoff. It was such a sudden jolt your head would jar if you didn’t hold it in a special position. The pilot had to hold his head back against the head rest as he was looking forward. The radioman, also looking forward, had to put his head down between his legs. I, the turret gunner who was riding backwards, had to hold my head and bend forward under the gun sight. The pilot would rev up the engine to flying speed and suddenly you would gain altitude quickly and go from 0 mph to 85 mph in about one hundred feet. I would be looking down at the end of the flight deck.

Landing on the carrier was quite an experience. We had a SB2C dive bomber miss the arresting gear and go off the side into the sea. The radioman gunner was killed, but the pilot survived. We also had a TBM torpedo bomber go into the sea as it was attempting to land. The pilot survived; there were no crewmen aboard. I had some scary landings. One time we landed and were off at an angle, but the landing hook caught the arresting cable and stopped us just before going into the sea. I looked to my right out of the turret, and I could see the water and some members of my squadron on the catwalk holding their heads. Another time we landed straight but very hard. The hook caught the arresting gear cable. The plane bounced high and came down hard blowing a landing gear tire. My head jarred and the gun sight hit my nose, cutting it slightly.

On landing, I could look over my right shoulder and see the direction of our flight toward the carrier. We would be flying directly over the churned wake of the Franklin about 100 feet above the ocean. As we approached the rear of the flight deck, I could see the landing signal officer giving my pilot instructions by the way he waived his flags. He signaled whether we were flying too low, too fast, too high, to bear left or right and the timing with the up and down movement of the flight deck. If all instructions were not right, we would get a wave-off. The landing signal officer had a net off the side of his position on the flight deck. He could jump into the net if a plane got misaligned and came too close to him. On one attempt at landing, we took six wave-offs for various reasons. I remember going along side of the carrier after one of the wave-offs looking up at the signal officer with his hands on his hips watching if we would go into the ocean. So, you see, there were all kinds of risks even before combat.

The planes are spotted very close together on the flight deck before a mission takes place. On one occasion I was late in getting to the plane on one of those surprise flights. I was in the middle of the flight deck on my way to our plane when it was announced for the pilots to start their engines. I was just a few feet from spinning propellers, but one plane captain spotted me and expertly guided me to my plane.

While on our way to Japan, we still were training with air group and navigation flights. On one occasion when our crew was out on an anti-submarine flight and had an escort of one of the F4V fighter planes, we flew in very close formation. I felt I could almost reach out and touch a fighter plane’s wing tip. I was amazed that fighter planes traveled in such close proximity. I could see that one of the fighter pilots was laughing. We waived and showed gestures to one another.

At night time, as we neared Japan, there was a lot of suspense with general quarters signals and orders coming over the loud speakers and lights going on and off as hatches were opened and closed. The enemy was dropping flares to silhouette against the sky so they could find us and attack. The night fighters must have taken care of them as we were not attacked at this point.

Our first bombing raid was on March 17, 1945. Our crew was not assigned to this mission. I remember the pilots singing Happy Birthday to Lt. Carr, our executive officer. He was also he leader of this first flight.

The next morning March 18, 1945, on my 20th birthday, our crew was assigned to this day’s mission. Many of the air crewmen sang happy birthday to me. We took off and had to fly through heavy thick clouds. When we finally got above the clouds the three plane group we were with was miles behind the main air group. We caught up to them just about the time Japan came into sight; we went to 25,000 feet and were on oxygen. We would be raiding an airfield on the west coast of Kyushu at Kagashima Igumi the southernmost island of the mainland of Japan. We flew across the middle of the island at 25,000 feet on oxygen. I could see cities to the north and south of us. We started our glide bombing run. I could feel the ice on the inside of my oxygen mask and the change in temperature as we dove. My radioman was dropping reflective confetti, as well as the plane in front of us, to deter the enemy’s radar controlled anti-aircraft guns. As we dove, I saw our port wing tip and reported this to my pilot. Looking over my right shoulder, I could see where we were headed. As we drew closer to the ground, my pilot fired his wing machine guns and dropped the bombs which appeared to hit an airfield hanger. I saw much debris like clapboards and parts of the building exploding into the air along with the flames and the smoke. We pulled out of our dive, and we were only about 150 feet above the Japanese airfield. We came out over the China Sea and there was one of our surfaced submarines a few hundred yards off shore. It was moving and ready to pick up any survivors from planes that were hit and had to ditch into the ocean.

We regrouped and started back just south of Kyushu Island. I observed many Japanese freighters sinking and on fire. Fighter planes were strafing the many ships at this point. The splashes from the guns of the diving fighter completely hid some of the smaller ships.

We got back to our carrier and my pilot made a perfectly smooth landing with no wave-offs. We got out of our planes and headed for our ready room. We were instructed over the loud speaker to hurry off the flight deck as there were enemy planes in the area. We got back to our ready room and realized the effect of the flight on us, the anxiety and nervousness, as well as the relief of getting back safely. I remember describing our mission and getting a shot of whiskey.

I was scheduled to fly a combat mission the next morning, March 19, 1945. I was awakened at 3:00 A.M. for an early breakfast. I reported to our ready room to get briefed and ready for the 6:00-7:00 A.M. flight. I was all ready to fly. I had on two or three pairs of pants, two or three layers of shirts, my leather flight jacket, heavy shoes and my “Mae West” life jacket. Just before boarding the plane our crew was cancelled because they needed a radioman with electronic radar interference experience. Since I was all dressed to fly and had eaten breakfast, I decided to go out to the flight deck catwalk and watch the planes take off. All the fighter planes were airborne and about half of the VB5 bombers were off. The torpedo planes were behind the bombers and were the last to takeoff. Since it was cold, the carrier was going into the wind at the top speed for take-off operations. I was thinking of going to the coffee station we had in our ready room to warm up. I came back out in time to see the torpedo bombers take off. I waited and watched a couple of bombers take off. I just started leaving the catwalk to head under the flight deck to our ready room when there was a terrific blast. I put my hands to my face at this sudden blast; flames came and then the dense smoke. I could not see my hands in front of me. I backed off and felt myself passing out from the heat of the flames, the concussion from the explosions, and being unable to breathe because of the dense smoke. Then came a split second when the air cleared, and I caught my breath. Then there was another explosion; again I was enveloped in flames, dense smoke and an awful confusion. I went to the top cable guard of the catwalk, and then there were a series of explosions with no letup of the smoke. I had my stomach up against the top cable, and as another explosion came I rolled over the cable and dropped into the ocean 90 feet below. I must have been knocked out. When I came to I was deep in the ocean as I could not see anything but darkness. I looked up and could see the glitter on the surface of the ocean. I thought afterwards that with the carrier going at top speed and with me dropping close to the hull of the carrier that the ship’s propellers could have drowned me deep into the sea.

This all happened without any warning; we were not at general quarters. I did hear some gun fire a second before the initial explosion. I did not get an explanation about the Jap plane, a Judy bomber, coming in low out of the low hanging clouds and too low for radar to pick up until I was on the destroyer. It dropped two 500 pound bombs on us. This acted as a fuse to ignite the gasoline lines that were lying on the decks, the remaining planes that were loaded with gasoline, bombs and rockets. The Judy was shot down by air group commander Cameron Parker who was aloft and flying an F4U.

Burning after being bombed off Japan, 19 March 1945. Photo courtesy of National History and Heritage Command.
Burning after being bombed off Japan, 19 March 1945. Photo courtesy of National History and Heritage Command.

After coming to in the ocean, I kicked and swam to the surface. Here I was with all of this heavy clothing and shoes on and still with my steel helmet strapped under my chin. My first thought was that I was alive and survived. I immediately thought of my nephew Peter John Hensel who was born on January 28, 1945, and whom I had never seen. This seemed to put some survival fight into me. I struggled and stayed afloat. I remember seeing the burning carrier going away from me. I remember several sailors popping to the surface with me. They had a strange stare with no expression and in my struggle they just seemed to disappear. I thought afterwards they must have been killed. For a few moments, I felt all alone in the wide ocean and scared. The ocean was very rough that morning. I remember seeing the bows of ships coming completely out of the water. I reached the peak of a wave, and then about a hundred feet from me was a raft. It must have been blown off from the explosions. As I got near the raft I recognized a sailor, Mike Monte, from the bomber squadron VB5. Then a ways off the raft was my pilot Lt. J. G. Gibson. He was on his back and appeared to be semi-conscience with some blood around his mouth. I observed as crewmen Monte dove off the raft and pulled Gibson to the raft. I got to the raft about the same time as they did and helped Monte get Gibson to the raft. About this time the bow of a battleship approached, USS North Carolina #55 (BB55). It was so close that someone from the bow dropped more life preservers for us.

I visited the battleship BB55 that is on display in Wilmington, North Carolina. In the battleship’s trophy compartment, there is a picture and a note telling how they were in the same group as the Franklin on March 19, 1945. The note explained how the BB55 captain ordered a sharp turn to avoid survivors of the Franklin. Thank God someone observed us enabling the captain to give the order!

Monte had hollered to me to pull the cord to inflate my “Mae West” and to throw off my steel helmet as it was coming down over my eyes. This ended my struggle to stay afloat. He hollered before I had gotten to the raft. The wake from the battleship made it difficult to hang onto the raft. It finally settled down. It was then that I noticed the burns on my hands; the shock of the event must have dulled the pain of the burns. I saw a small amount of the blood coming from the back of my hands. I then thought of sharks which gave me the strength to push up onto the raft.

After I got into the raft, I saw that a semi-conscience Gibson was on the edge of the
donut-shaped raft. He slipped into the center and disappeared under the water. Another survivor and I were able to grab him and pull him back onto the raft. In the center of the donut-shaped raft, was a rope net that hung below the raft. I wondered what would have happened if Gibson had got tangled up in it or might this have kept him from going way under. In the meantime, a man I did not know climbed onto the raft which made four of us.

Soon I saw the bow of a destroyer, the USS Hickox DD673, heading toward us. The bow was coming completely out of the water. I remember saying if I see the bottom of the bow I’m jumping, thinking that the bottom of the bow would come over the raft and take it under the ocean. As the destroyer approached us, the captain must have ordered the ship into reverse as this held the bow down as it hit the raft. The fourth man on the raft fell off and was picked up. A line was thrown, and I caught it. The ship must have been moving forward as I hung onto the line which pulled the raft along the ship. The sailor on the other end of the line kept letting line out and, we ended up a ways from the ship as it stopped. We were pulled up to the port side of the destroyer where there was a cargo net and sailors aided in pulling us off the raft and onto the destroyer. They took us to a central compartment on the main deck and there was a doctor on board. Lt. MC R. K. Williams, a sailor from the destroyer, dove into the ocean and pulled in a survivor that was severely burned. The doctor was working on him and directing corpsmen that were working on Monte and me. Gibson must have been taken to another compartment.

Corpsmen took off our wet clothes and put us in in clothes from some of the ship’s company or what they called small stores. They cut off my high school ring. We started to shake either from coming out of shock or from the cold. I remember holding my hands down and fluid kept coming out of them. I could not stop shaking. The corpsmen sprinkled sulfur powder on my face and hands. They bandaged my hands with Vaseline gauze, and I had several patches on my face. I don’t remember any pain until after I stopped shaking and being bandaged. It must have been because of the trauma and shock of the incident. My eyelashes and eyebrow hairs were all burned off. There were other blistered and crusty areas to my face besides the deep burns. After a while, they sent Monte and me to an officer’s compartment to recover from the shock. The man the doctor had been working on died the next day and was buried at sea.

The Hickox pulled up to the fantail of the Franklin. There were many sailors trapped on the fantail from the fire and explosions. The sea was still rough and as the bow of the destroyer rose up near the fantail the men trapped there were jumping off onto the bow of the Hickox. One missed the bow and fell into the sea and was rescued. While this was taking place there were still explosions and rockets taking off from the Franklin.

A fire and listing after a Japanese air attack on the Franklin, off the coast of Japan. Note fire hoses and crewmen on her forward flight deck and water streaming from her hangar deck. Photographed from USS Santa Fe.
A fire and listing after a Japanese air attack on the Franklin, off the coast of
Japan. Note fire hoses and crewmen on her forward flight deck and water
streaming from her hangar deck. Photographed from USS Santa Fe.

The cruiser Santa Fe pulled along the star board side of the Franklin, and I understand they took on the remainder of Air Group 5 and personnel that were wounded. I observed the cruiser Pittsburgh take the Franklin in tow. The Hickox was firing at Japanese planes that were trying to finish off the Franklin. I was disappointed when I woke up the morning of March 20, 1945 and found that we had not proceeded very far as the Franklin was almost dead in the water. The Hickox just circled the Franklin all night.

After many hours of continuous duty the officers wanted their compartments for sleep, so we were assigned bunks in a compartment in the bow of the ship. I could stick out my arms and touch both bulkheads. The sea was still rough and the greatest movement is at the bow end of the ship. So help me, with the vast up and down movement, I would lift off the top of the bunk as the bow dropped. I had to balance myself with my elbows as my hands were bandaged.

If I had not gone to early breakfast, I might have been in the chow line where all were killed. If I had gotten back into our ready room for coffee, I would have been there when the first bomb dropped. There was only one that escaped alive from there. I am glad I did not go when I first thought of doing it.

The Franklin along with the destroyer group arrived at the Ulithi anchorage on March 24, 1945. I was put over the side of the Hickox in a basket to a motor launch and transferred to the USS Relief AH1, a hospital ship. It was either Palm Sunday or Easter as I remember going to a church service. I spent one night on the Relief AH1 and then transferred to another hospital ship, USS Bountiful AH9. The Relief was ordered to proceed to Iwo Jima to care for the wounded there as the island had just been secured.

It was a great feeling to get aboard the hospital ship. On the Bountiful I met two friends from my squadron: Drew Hontz from Wilksbarre, Pa and Knudson from Philadelphia, Pa. Knudson had ear drums injured from the concussions of the explosions. Drew Hontz had an odd bone broken under his collar bone and was transferred after a two day stay. I remember Drew Hontz going over the side of the hospital ship in a basket. I can still see his smile and the wave he gave me— the great feelings of survival!

Knudson said he would give me a shower but would not clean my crotch, as if I would let him. I held my bandaged hands over my head and he soaped about 90% of my body, and I rinsed myself. It sure felt good to get the shower. Knudson also wrote a letter I dictated to him for my parents explaining my wounds and telling them that I was safe. Since the tips of some of my fingers extended through the bandages, I was able to put a mark on the letter.

The USS Bountiful was anchored close to the Franklin. I could see the blackened area and massive hole on the port side about where I was standing. Our air group flight surgeon examined me leaving me aboard the hospital ship while the rest of the air group went on. He informed us of the many that were killed from our squadron. I lost two close friends: Elmer Lowery and Gerald Nold.

After about two weeks, I was released from the hospital ship and sent to a transfer ship the USS General Bundy APA93. I was put in a launch as we pulled up alongside the General Bundy. I had to climb a cargo net, which looked to be about forty feet high, to get aboard. It was a tough experience trying to pull myself up with my yet tender hands. I spent about three nights on the General Bundy and slept in a compartment about six decks below the main deck. I was then transferred to a CVL, an aircraft carrier just a bit smaller than the Franklin class, either the USS Princeton or the USS Cabot. I was headed back to the USA.

We stopped at Pearl Harbor for a day or two. I had no clothes and no money. My gear was an extra shirt, pants, and underwear that a crewman gave me somewhere along the line. I had no identification with me. I went to the officer of the deck and explained my situation and asked him if I could go ashore at Ford Island for a while. He let me go but warned me to get back in a short time as his watch would be ending, and the next officer of the deck would not recognize me.

We left Pearl Harbor and proceeded to San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. What a welcomed sight it was! We docked at Treasure Island in the bay, and I was immediately transferred to Alameda NAS.

I originally wanted to get back to my squadron but my orders came through for a thirty day survivor’s leave and then on to Naval Air Technical Training Command (NATTC) Norman, Oklahoma for a refresher course. I received a complement of new clothing and my back pay. I was happy and looking forward to my trip back home.

While at Alameda I met a former member of our squadron, Smith, a radioman. He was being transferred to Rhode Island to train for night duty with radar and then overseas. He spotted me, and I gave him the names of the men that I knew at that time who had been killed.

After my leave, in June 1945, I arrived at Norman, Oklahoma. I asked and received a weekend leave and was able to visit the family and friends of my friend Gerald Nold in nearby Arkansas City.

I was accepted for pilot training but the atomic bomb was dropped, and the war ended. I elected to leave flight school as we had just begun the refresher course. I was transferred to several bases ending up at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and was discharged from Lido Beach, Long Island in April 1946.

Here are some afterthoughts…

The sound of the initial explosion was unexpected and a devastating experience. It came so sudden with the flames, smoke and heat. That second surely changed my life and attitude. It is just hard to explain the effect and the shock it put me into. The one second that the air cleaned before the second bomb exploded gave me breath and probably saved my life as I was feeling faint.

Ardell Lietzke broke his leg and was in a cast. He broke it playing softball sliding into second base. I was the one who threw the ball to try to get him out. He begged the doctor to let him stay with the squadron. The doctor did so against his better judgment because he had to put a cast on Lietzke’s leg. Later, on that fateful date, Lietzke went into the ocean. He was unable to stay afloat with the cast on his leg and drowned. The doctor stated when he examined me that the decision he made about Lietzke was something he would regret the rest of his life.

I regret that I was only able to be overseas for just a short period. Yet, when I look back, the events of March 19, 1945 were so traumatic that it gave me the feeling of contributing to the war effort.

I regret now that I put this experience of being wounded and getting split up from the remaining squadron in the back of my mind. I didn’t express this experience throughout the years and did not keep in contact with these men. I also regret not maintaining contact with Gerald Nold’s family and friends. After being discharged and returning home, this experience was put into the back of my mind while I socialized with my family and friends but it has never been forgotten.

A final thought…
I came into my kitchen about 9:00 a.m. on September 11, 2001 and the television was
on. It showed the World Trade Center, North tower, burning; an airplane had just run
into it. I kept watching the television and saw the second plane hit the South Tower. I
observed the flames and smoke as it hit. I could imagine the people in the building at
that second going through quite the same of what I went through only having nowhere to escape.

Copy of original document from USS Hickox roster of wounded dated March 19, 1945. Bottom right corner lists John Hensel.
Copy of original document from USS Hickox roster of wounded dated March 19, 1945. Bottom right corner lists John Hensel.

The Men of the Franklin

On March 19, 1945, the Japanese dropped two bombs on the USS Franklin. Below are the names of the men killed from my VT5 squadron whose faces I will always remember…

ENS. Glenn Drulinger

ADM3C Elmer Lowery

ACRT Raymond Pagel

CCDR Allan Edmunds

ARM3C Ray Hute

ACRM Charles Jenkins

ENS. Patrick Lacy

ARM3C Robert Wakefield

ARM3C Robert Baucum

ENS. Charles McAllister

ARM1C Theodore Dorak

AOM1C James Hobbs

ENS. Julius Watson

PRIC Gene Smith

AOM1C Howard Stone

LTJG David Evans

ACMM Gordon Lyons

AOM3C David MacLeod

ENS. Wilman Wheeler

Y1C Donald Kenfield

ARM2C Ardell Leitzke

Y3C Gerald Nold

ARMIC Loyd Fairbrother

ADM1C John Matysyn

LT George Watkins

Men of the Franklin

Praise for the men who fought
The FRANKLIN’s cause to win,
But for Her dead, a thought,
May memory take them in!

May memory hold them dear,
Her thousands maimed and dead!
To Freedom’s utmost year
May prayers for them be said.

At fearful post they stayed,
Let history’s ages note,
Gallant and unafraid,
Keeping the ship afloat!

Praise for the Living, aye!
For ages be it said,
But, as the years go by
Remembrance of her dead.
Edgar A. Guest, 1945


Parents: Peter W Hensel and Matilda Wolff Hensel
Born: March 18, 1925; Utica, New York
Sibling: older brother, Pete
Education: Utica City Schools
High School Jobs: Boston Store; local lawn care
High School Graduation: Utica Free Academy, June 23, 1943
Naval Choice: uncle in navy; always interested in model airplanes
Naval Induction: June 22, 1943
Discharged: April 1946
Military Award: Purple Heart
Marriage: To Mary Elizabeth Follette, October 1, 1945
Children: Richard, Jill, Mary-Lynn, Nancy, John, Mark; 15 grandchildren; 8 great-
Post-Military Employment: traveling heating and plumbing parts salesman
Retired: May 1988
Today: active member of USS Franklin reunions and correspondent with Franklin
families; member of Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 490

Excerpts from….. “A Tribute to My Grandfather”

I have nothing but fond memories of my grandpa. I can remember going to so many
different places with him. We’ve gone to visit different war memorials and out to dinner
and ice cream many times. Every time we do go somewhere with him it is always fun and
I end up laughing and having a great time.

He’s been through a lot of things in his life and one of the most admirable was his
commitment to the United States Navy and his participation in World War II. I look up to
him for not only this reason, but many others as well.

In October of 2009 my dad’s family and I attended my grandparents’ 60th wedding
anniversary. As always at family special events, I make sure that I dance with my
grandpa because I know it brings him joy as it does to me, after all he won’t be around
forever and I would like to cherish every moment I have with him.

He is very proud of us all, and I am very glad that I can call him my grandfather.

By Your Loving Grandchild

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo Collection

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


Tips on researching the USS Franklin, CV-13


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 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:

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. 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, the main website email address.

USS Franklin Cruise Book, Big Ben the Flat Top: For more information, click below.

USS Franklin Muster Rolls. 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. 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.

Stevie O’brien’s presentation on Father Joseph O’Callahan for National History Day

Stevie OBrien, a 12 year old student in Massachusetts recently participated in a National History Day contest where the theme is “Leadership and Legacy”.  For his project he selected Father Joseph O‘Callahan of the USS Franklin.  Stevie came in second in his category of junior historical exhibit at the Massachusetts state competition and he also received the National Archives award in his category for best use of primary sources and the first place junior division award from the National Maritime historical Society.  With a donation from the USS Franklin Museum Association, Stevie competed in the national finals at the University of Maryland in June.  He sent the presentation below to share his trip with the readers of



Stevie Obrien 1 Stevie Obrien 2 Stevie Obrien 3 Stevie Obrien 4 Stevie Obrien 5 Stevie Obrien 6 Stevie Obrien 7 Stevie Obrien 8

Memorial Service, Sunday Morning 25 March 1945


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.

November 1964 All Hands Magazine article “The Ship That Wouldnt Be Sunk”

All Hands Magazine Nov 1964 (734x1024)
I would like to thank  Mr. John Simonetti, AMS3, V6 Division, ’61-62.  Mr. Simonetti served on the USS Intrepid (CV, CVA, CVS-11) and forwarded me the article found in the November 1964 All Hands magazine published by the Navy.  The article is posted on the Navys website here:
The pdf file is a little bit large at 25MB so It may take a bit to download.  The account of the Franklin bombing begins on page 54.  
Mr. Simonetti has published a website “in honor and in memory of my home-away-from-home and my fellow shipmates of the USS Intrepid (CV, CVA, CVS-11)”
His website can be found here:

Saving Seaman Stuart

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

Chapter 3

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.

Chapter 4

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
gallery deck.

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
months later.

Chapter 5

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
bombs struck.

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.

Chapter 6

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
Franklin tragedy.

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
Purple Hearts.)

(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–


“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.”
Signed-Raymond Sines

Signed-Vern Riffe
( 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

My Memories of the Navy

My Memories of the Navy


I was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV -13) in the Sea of Japan, when on 19 March 1945, a Jap “”Judy” dive-bomber screamed out of a low winter cloud, dropped a 500 pound bomb on the flight deck and returned a second time to drop another. The first bomb ripped below, igniting gasoline and ordnance in a flash of flame and concussion, blowing the 32-ton aircraft elevator into the air. It fell back into the holocaust. Sailors were incinerated where they stood in the chow line, while others were blown out of the hanger doors into the sea. The two blasts drove the 29,000-ton ship out of the water and whipped her to the right. She then settled into a 13-degree starboard list.

That morning, I was too exhausted to have breakfast though I had not eaten in two days. That saved my life, as many of my buddies were lost in the chow line. I was stretched out
on chairs in the library trying to rest when the ship shuddered; explosions threw me across the room against the bulkhead. We all jumped up and headed for our battle stations. I got a towel and soaked it in the water cooler.

We didn’t get far because of heart and smoke. There were 25 of us groping in the smoke-filled hallway. We descended two decks trying to find a way out and finally worked our way onto the fantail.

Conditions there were horrible; smoke and fire everywhere, 40mm ammunition exploding on a gun mount, and our own rockets from burning planes were soaring up and down the deck. Men were on fire; others had limbs torn and faces gone. An explosion ripped off one side of my life preserver, shrapnel
creased my battle helmet and burned the right side of my face. A piece of metal imbedded in my hand.

The ship began settling and listing, then secondary explosions slapped us down again. By now. there were only six men alive in my location. Three of us left by climbing down a rope, then falling the remaining 40 feet into the sea. There were Jap planes buzzing around, plopping and slashing shells and bullets along with the roar of gunfire. I did not believe either we, or the ship would survive.

When I hit the water, the torn life preserver tangled in the battle helmet and was choking me. I nearly drowned. Underwater, I pushed off the helmet and my shoes, and followed my torn life preserver to the surface. I watched the
ship float rapidly away; listing ominously and trailing smoke. There were fires blazing; bodies, parts and everything imaginable floating. It was frightening, with, with ships passing me by. I waved desperately to the Pittsburgh (CA- 72) and Santa Fe (CL-60), knowing I was only 60 miles off the coast of Japan, and could be picked up by the enemy.

Finally the destroyer Hickox (DD-673) steamed into our area. I tried to wave my presence but had no strength: I could have not survived many more minutes in the sea. The Hickox made only one pass, picked me up, then steamed back to her battle position and resumed firing her cannons and antiaircraft guns. The noise on this ship was deafening, but I loved her for the security she offered my worn-out body.

In all, the Hickox rescued 400 sailors from the Franklin.