- Historic Sites
Captain Of The Franklin
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
By nightfall, the Pittsburgh was pulling the Franklin south at the vulnerable rate of six knots .
All that long day, from the time the bomb hit us in the morning, always within arm’s reach and sometimes in the way was one of my Marine orderlies, a nineteenyear-old private first class named Wallace Klimkiewicz. He was always there. He made me put on my helmet, because he said that had been the Captain’s orders. He made me put on my lifebelt, because that had been the Captain’s orders. And every time I turned around, he was always right there with me, all through the whole time.
That night bombers came out from the Japanese homeland, and there was quite a Fourth of July show going on. The full moon was out. Suddenly the whole flight deck burst into flames again, and the same instant a great big flare went off overhead, and I thought, now we’re really going to catch it. Instinctively I pulled a cigarette out of my pocket and lighted it. Suddenly I heard a gruff voice behind me say, “Dowse that butt!” I turned around and said, “Who the hell is that?” And it was Klimkiewicz. I don’t know who was more shocked.
By 3 A.M. the next day, the Franklin had begun to move again under her own power. Survivors of the Black Gang, returning to their posts in the fire and engine rooms, had managed to improvise steam lines and electrical circuits, restoring lights, radar, pumps, ventilators, and communications. At 12:35 P.M. tne carrier had built up enough speed to cast off the tow. “Down by the tail but reins up!” a triumphant Gehres reported to his superiors .
The survivors now gathered below on the hangar deck, which was torn open to the sky, to pray for the dead, each man alone in his grief and his gratitude. The casualty list was awesome: 724 dead, another 265 wounded. No U.S. Navy ship had ever suffered such a loss and returned to base. The trip back was, in the Captain’s words, “a terrible, terrible experience.”
There were so many dead and so badly burned. We had no time to go through a formal burial service for each man. The two chaplains took their posts on the starboard side, and they would remove the dogtags, because most of the bodies couldn’t be identified any other way, and the Catholic chaplain would say the proper services for the Catholics and the Protestant chaplain the words for the Protestants. Father O’Callahan also knew the Hebrew words, and he would recite those, too. Then the bodies … sometimes there were just parts of bodies, went over the side. We had to do it, because we were getting back into hot weather and the ship was full of death and … it was terrible.
Father O’Callahan later wrote a book about the Franklin in which he stated that I was not a very religious man. Well, I never made any great show about being religious, but neither was I irreligious. At times like we went through in the Franklin , I guess everybody has to have something to lean on or perhaps revert to.
At one point, during the worst of it, with the bombs going off, hell breaking loose all around me … this is something I have never told anybody before except my wife. In the midst of all that, I suddenly heard a voice inside my head repeating the twenty-third Psalm … “The Lord is my shepherd” … which I hadn’t thought about since I was a kid in Sunday school. But there I heard it repeated perfectly, word for word. And I knew that everything would be all right.
By the time the ships returned to Ulithi, the advanced anchorage in the Carolines, the Franklin, to the astonishment of the fleet, had regained her place in line .
At first they came to look at us. They couldn’t believe we were still afloat. But then they started to strip us. They took everything they could lug off our ship and use on some other ship. They were taking away so much equipment that I began to get concerned, because I had to get the Franklin somewhere out of Ulithi. So I put a stop to that, and four days later we left. But first I asked the port captain, I told him I wanted some cutting torches and oxygen. I wanted to start cutting away the wreckage. They wouldn’t give me any. They said they needed that equipment in Ulithi. But they made a bad mistake. They left a barge alongside overnight and that barge contained the gas and cutting torches. My impression is that some of the chiefs, and a fellow named Red Morgan, made a midnight requisition, because when we sailed the next day, all that stuff was aboard our ship.
The Franklin also reclaimed part of her crew at Ulithi, men who had gone overboard after the attack and were picked up by other ships. The next stop was Pearl Harbor, where more survivors of the battle came back aboard. For the long trip home, the carrier mustered only 704 men and officers. They dubbed themselves “The 104 Club” and went to work cleaning up their battered ship .