- Historic Sites
Captain Of The Franklin
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
All that long voyage home, from the place where we were hit, to Ulithi, to Pearl Harbor, to Panama, to New York, I think that crew must have thought I was some kind of Simon Legree, because I worked the officers and men from sunup to sundown. As much as anything, the purpose was to keep those men busy. There weren’t many of them left. They had seen a great many of their shipmates die, or be burned, or blown over the side, and this was the second such experience for some of them, who had been through a kamikaze attack the previous October.
I knew if I didn’t keep them so busy that at night they would be dead tired and exhausted, that I would have a crew of mental cases by the time I got the ship home. At sundown they were just exhausted and they would drop off and go to sleep.
This accomplished two things. When the ship got to New York, she was in extraordinarily, unbelievably clean condition, and I didn’t have a single psycho case on that ship. I had probably the proudest, cockiest crew that any ship in any navy ever had. Their performance, I think, was one of the really great things in the history of the United States Navy. Seven hundred and four officers and men brought this ship home all the way from Japan to New York when most people felt we would never get away from Japan. They believed we were going to be sunk at any time.
On April 28,1945, the Franklin sailed into New York Harbor, with all hands mustered on the flight deck at “quarters for entering port.” Forty days before, she had been “dead in the water” off Japan. She had travelled 13,000 miles from the scene of the battle, the most heavily damaged carrier to make port under her own power in U.S. Navy history .
You take that crew I had on the Franklin . For the most part, they were youngsters of eighteen, nineteen, twenty, many of them at sea for the first time, many of them in combat for the first time. But the manner in which they performed, the way they supported each other, the way they fought that ship, was one of the really great things in the history of the U.S. Navy. A ship by itself is nothing but a lot of steel, a lot of machinery. It isn’t until you put people on board that she becomes a real thing. And then, when people live together and work together and train together and then finally fight together, and help save each other in bad times, and they go through all this together, then they become a community and a family, and the ship becomes a live thing.
The war was over by the time the Franklin was repaired. She never saw combat again. Eventually, the Navy put her in “mothballs,” and, in 1966, Big Ben came to the brutal end of many old sea warriors. The ship that had cost $57,000,000 to build was sold, with certain portions excepted, for $228,000 to a junkyard at Mill Dam Creek, Virginia. Section by section, she has been cut and shattered into scraps for the steel mills of Europe and her former enemy, Japan.
But “the ship that wouldn’t be sunk” has not died entirely. Her armor plating went to the Atomic Energy Commission, her guns were returned to the Navy, and her island superstructure was bequeathed to the city of Norfolk for a naval museum. Other precious “organs,” as in surgical transplants, have been grafted into sister carriers still sailing the seas: her reduction gear to the Hornet, her turbines to the Roosevelt, and a forward section of her flight deck to the Valley Forge to patch up collision damage .
Her captain left the Navy with the rank of rear admiral. Today, at the age of seventy, Gehres is far from retired. As an executive of the California Westgate Corporation, he commands a tuna fleet of fourteen vessels out of San Diego and is director of labor relations for five taxicab fleets on the west coast. For his role in saving the Franklin, he received the Navy Cross.
Before the Board of Decorations in Washington I was asked if I thought I should be awarded the Medal of Honor. I said No. It is the commanding officer’s primary duty to save his ship, and I had done nothing beyond and above the call of duty.
On April 6 at 10 P.M. (E.S.T.) NBC Television will present a special hour-long documentary entitled “The Ship That Wouldn’t Die—the U.S.S. Franklin .” Produced and directed by Robert L. Garthwaite and written by David Davidson, the show retells the incredible ordeal through interviews with the carrier’s survivors.