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On Making Heroes

March 2023
1min read

Sir: I enjoyed mightily “Captain of the Franklin ” [Before the Colors Fade, April, 1969]. Perhaps I can partly explain why the Franklin “became the most-decorated ship with the most-decorated crew in naval history.”

It is true history and will add another hero, namely Samuel Wolf. Sam Wolf was a very able if not so young attorney who during the latter years of World War II as a lieutenant commander faithfully performed the duty of permanent defense counsel of the General Court Martial in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. These duties and a small office on the second floor of an ancient sail loft in the yard occupied by the General Court Martial were shared with me. We worked well together at the task of defending an almost endless number of young officers and enlisted men who had fouled up under naval discipline and regulations.

The afternoon the crippled carrier Franklin finally arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard I was surprised to find our small office filled with several junior officers from the ship in serious conference with Sam Wolf. They had come seeking defense counsel. The charges were grave and numerous -centering around an alleged desertion and abandonment of stations at the time when the ship was set afire by kamikaze attack off the coast of Japan. Conviction would blast the future of the officer and brand him as a coward.

Sam Wolf asked me to aid him and briefed me on the facts and his proposed defense. He had a defense as airtight as it was ingenious— perhaps almost too much so. Then he asked me to go over to the bar of the Officers’ Club, to join in on conversations about the Franklin and to drop a few hints of the proposed line of the defense to be adopted for the junior officers under charges. The Franklin was the subject of all conversations. Someone who knew me asked me if any of the officers served with charges had been in to request aid. This gave me a perfect opening. I performed exactly as Sam had asked, and I had an attentive audience. I announced that if the charges were pressed we proposed to base the defense upon the fact that the junior defendants had done nothing but that which most of the senior officers of the fleet had undeniably done. The Franklin was the flagship of Task Force 58, and a staff briefing attended by most of the senior officers of the force had been in session at the time of the kamikaze attack. These senior officers had abandoned not only the briefing session but the Franklin herself. If the junior officers were to be charged with abandoning the flaming, exploding, floating hell, did not they have a lot of good company? Having made the point I left.

It was not long thereafter that the New York morning newspapers carried front page stories about the heroism aboard the Franklin and told how the Navy Department was awarding Navy Crosses and Legions of Merit. As I was reading the story, I felt a hand on my shoulder; it was Sam Wolf. “Finding out how heroes are made?” he asked. …

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