2012 Eulogy of Charles Heinl and the Brave Men of the USS Gambier Bay

Eulogy for the October 21, 2012
USS Gambier Bay Memorial Service
By Rita Heinl, Widow of Charles (Charlie) Heinl

 

The Gambier Bay – VC10 was a big part of Charlie’s life. Before thereunions he never talked about the sinking of the Gambier Bay.  From the days he, Tony, and Marty worked on getting a roster together – they met in Ohio or New York occasionally and compared different names and addresses they found. Charlie spent many hours in the eveningto locate names and addresses of members from telephone books that he remembered. These telephone books were given to him by members of our community who went on vacation and collected them at the different places  where they visited. The first reunion in St. Louis, which was 25 years  after the ship was sunk, was an experience.  I never saw so many men shed a tear when they saw  some of their former service men.  At the one reunion in California when they distributed the book  “The Men Of the Gambier Bay”, he had orders for 45 books  for relatives and members of the Community,  when you live in a small community like we do everyone knows everybody.  He missed one reunion which was the second one in San Antonio, Texas.  He was invited by a great nephew to San Diego, California at the same time.  Our great nephew was in the Navy and was made Commander of a  fleet of 70 helicopters at the Naval Base on Coronado Island. I thought  it would be to much for me to keep up with things so our oldest granddaughter,  Ashlee, Mark and Sandy’s daughter went with him.  They stayed at the  Naval  Base on Coronado and by the time they left to come home all the Navy men  were calling him “Uncle Charlie”. This was a great experience for him.

He enjoyed being secretary and treasurer for the Association  and being involved with the many reunions.  There is a time when things change and the next generation takes over.  We wish them success in the years to come. We enjoyed all the reunions, have been in many states.  We have met a lot of nice people and have many pleasant memories.

Charlie Heinl crossed the bar in December 2011

 

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In Memory of the Brave Men of the USS Gambier Bay
October 21, 2012
By Mark Heinl and Ashlee Heinl-Botkin
Son and Grandaughter of Charles (Charlie) Heinl

 

First I would like to say that I am honored to speak on behalf of all of those that we are here to honor today. Each year, I am humbled by the presence of the men of the USS Gambier Bay, those survivors that have earned the respect of each and every city they have visited over the years. It was just a year ago that my wife and I had the distinct privilege of bringing my Dad to what would be his last Gambier Bay reunion. The Gambier Bay was such a huge part of my Dad’s life, it seems only fitting that I carry on his legacy by sharing a few things with all of you. Thursday, the 25th, will mark 68 years since the Gambier Bay was lost to sea. Yamato had attacked and the USS Gambier Bay had been one of its victims. The Yamato may have won the battle that day, but even in their darkest hours, the men of the USS Gambier Bay held strong and stuck together and proved that their brotherhood was stronger than even the mighty ships of Japan. 85% of the men that were aboard the USS Gambier Bay survived what my Dad said was probably one of the most unequal battles of two ships that had ever been fought. The tiny little Gambier Bay versus the mammoth Yamato, the ship sunk but the men were lifted by their own strength and the never-ending will to live. Most of us cannot even imagine the experiences these men had during their 45 hours in the water. The fear that they must have felt as the Japanese ships cruised by and videotaped them floating as if they were merely a form of entertainment, is a fear that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There were sharks that killed and consumed their brothers’ right before their eyes. These men are and were heroes who have paid far too great a sacrifice.

The USS Gambier Bay reunions began to commemorate the 25th year in 1969 in St. Louis Missouri. I was nine years old. Since then the reunion has traveled back and forth all around the United States. Each city we meet presents us with a new opportunity to explore the beautiful country that our heroes fought for. This year we have had the chance to explore Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a place that we last visited in 1989. Mr. Steven Ponto serves as the mayor of Brookfield, but also shares something great in common with myself and some of you in this room. His father was aboard the USS  St Lo which also saw its demise October 25th in the year 1944. It is an honor to be respected so greatly in such a fine city. Thank you for having us and thank you for the wonderful experiences that we have shared here in the Milwaukee and Brookfield area.

Please let us take a moment to honor all of those men who paid the ultimate sacrifice whether aboard the ship or out in the ocean. Their heroism rings the same.  122 men were lost on that fateful day at sea. This year we learned of the passing of Wayne Galey who died in October of 2004, Ralph Wilderman who died March 3rd of 2006, George Howard who died July 14th of 2009, Leonard Jay Thompson who died March 17th of 2010, Franklin A Engel who died July 17th of 2011, Jack Turner who died September 7th of 2011, Jesse E. Lee who died September 13th 2011 and Jacob “Thorny” Thorwell who died October 11th of 2011. Our brothers who have passed since the last time we met are Fred Harry Eelman who died on October 28th 2011, My Dad and hero Charles G Heinl who died on December the 19th 2011, Don Heric who died a day later on December 20th 2011, Carl R. Duqiuette who died January 1st 2012, Roy Cowan who died February 23rd 2012, Paul Bennett who died February 28th 2012, Louis Vilmer Jr. who died March 24th 2012, Reverend John Goforth who died May 3rd 2012, Clifford A. Wood who also died in May of 2012, Charles Warren Schlichter who died June 3rd of 2012, and James R. Sherrod who died June 5th of 2012. May all of their souls rest in peace and may their USS Gambier Bay reunion in heaven be as elaborate as they all deserve! It is their memory that brings us here today. These men symbolize the great in America. Few will leave a legacy like the men of the USS Gambier Bay. Such a unique and wonderful group of men that deserve all the respect and admiration that this nation can present to them.

That October day forever changed all of our lives. Whether the child of a survivor who was raised to understand that the sacrifice that these men made would forever shape who we are as strong and thankful individuals. Or military personnel who live under the same oath and are prepared to make those same sacrifices that their brothers and sisters before them have made. Or the spouse of one of these brave seamen who lived with a lifetime of stories and experiences. Or even those of you who made your way here today to honor and pay tribute to men that you were never fortunate enough to know. The fight in us, the strong will in us, the courage in us, and most of all, the AMERICAN in us is because of these men.

Thank you for your attendance. Thank you for your support. My heart swells at the opportunity to honor my Dad and one of the most important things in his life. The USS Gambier Bay and its men and memories will live on for decades through the stories and experiences that have been shared.  As the reunions continue, let us never forget the reason we are here and the men that we are honored to celebrate.