It was a gift from the heart to the new Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post home on Moffat Boulevard Thursday when retired Lt. Commander Lee Almquist presented an artist’s rendering of the ship he served on during World War II — the U.S.S. Franklin — being hit by a Japanese torpedo bomber March 19, 1945.
It was first struck by a Kamakaze bomber in October of 1944, repaired, and returned to service six months later when it was hit again by a Japanese dive bomber. It was an attack that saw a single low flying Japanese plane drop two armor-piercing bombs devastating the hanger deck and setting off explosions in ammunition supplies. Casualties totaled 724 killed and 256 wounded.
VFW Post Commander Carlon Perry quickly spotted a place on the Moffat Boulevard post wall where the picture will be mounted for all to remember the “Ship that wouldn’t die.” Listing 13 degrees and the fires finally extinguished, the Franklin eventually limped to the East Coast Navy yards under its own power with crew members standing on deck.
Almquist was a back seat radio operator and gunner that fateful day when his squadron was returning from a fighter sweep against Honshu and later a strike against shipping in Kobe Harbor some 50 miles off the coast of Japan. They were expecting to land aboard their carrier when they found it was engulfed in flames. They had to fly on to reach the U.S.S. Hornet another 50 miles distant.
The fire was later described as the most severe survived by any U.S. warship during the course of World War II.
One of the bombs had struck the center line of the flight deck, penetrating to the hangar deck, causing massive destruction and igniting fires through the second and third decks, knocking out the combat information center and air plot.
The second bomb struck the ship aft, tearing through two decks and fanning fires that triggered ammunition, bombs and rockets as many crew member were blown overboard or were killed or wounded. Smoke and flames rolled out of the Franklin with a river of burning gasoline spreading destruction as it streamed out the side of the ship as seen in an official U.S. Navy photograph.
Remaining aboard the carrier were over 100 officers and some 600 enlisted sailors who voluntarily remained on board, saving their ship through sheer valor and tenacity.
One Roman Catholic chaplain Lt. Commander Joseph T. O’Callahan seemed to be everywhere giving last rights and manning fire hoses, jettisoning ammunition and doing everything possible to save the ship, going from place to place with his head slightly bowed as if in meditation, crew members recalled.
Lt. Donald A. Gary and O’Callahan were both cited for their heroism after that day for calming many shipmates and saving lives in the process. After finding an exit after repeated attempts, Gary led some 300 of his shipmates to safety. He later organized and led fire fighting teams to battle the blazing inferno on the hangar deck. Both men received Medals of Honor and had U.S. war ships later named after them for their unselfish contributions during a time of war.
After more than 20 years in the Navy Almquist retired from the service and was promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander.