Remembering Gambier Bay
Juneau Residents Travel to Gambier Bay to Celebrate the 65th Anniversary of Sinking of Namesake Vessel
Posted: Sunday, December 6, 2009 – By: Kathy Koklhorst Ruddy
“We recognize your sacrifice” – these are the words we spoke as we read the names of the 129 sailors and aviators who died in the sinking of the U.S.S. Gambier Bay at the Battle of Samar, in the Philippines, during World War II.
We spoke these words 65 years ago to the day of the sinking.
We were a group of seven, traveling to Gambier Bay, an expansive and gorgeous bay south of Juneau, on October 25, the 65th anniversary of the sinking of the namesake vessel in 1944.
Twenty-four bays in Southeast Alaska provided names for
World War II aircraft carriers.
The U.S.S. Gambier Bay was one of the group of vessels known as Taffy 3 critical in turning the tide against the Japanese Center Fleet, which was advancing on the virtually undefended 700 Allied ships, with 190,000 troops aboard, ready and waiting to invade the Philippines to drive out the occupying Japanese.
When my husband, Bill Ruddy, suggested this commemorative trip almost a year ago, I was skeptical, until I learned the significance of the Taffy 3 group’s resistance against overwhelming odds. I also learned, through my brother, that our father had been stationed on one of those 700 exposed ships.
These are the words of the commander of one of the Taffy 3 vessels, to his crew:
“This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”
Tim Armstrong, Past Commander of the American Legion Post 25 and of the
VFW Post 5559, led the service. He read a citation from the American Legion and also from the Juneau Navy League. Armstrong is a life member of the
Alaska Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Senior Vice Commander
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 4.
Bill Ruddy, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve and Alaska Army National Guard for six years, played “Eternal Father Strong to Save” on the trumpet.
A wreath was thrown into the waters of Gambier Bay to recognize the sacrifice.
We traveled on our boat, the Princeton Hall, the 65 foot boat built at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka and launched three days before the bombs fell at
Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. The vessel was conscripted by the Navy to operate patrol in Southeast Alaska during the war, and returned to the
Presbyterian Church at the end of the war. The boat passed into private ownership in the 1960s.
Cyril George, Salvation Army Corps Sargeant Major (retired), and former Mayor of Angoon for many years, participated in the ceremony and played “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” on the guitar. George, then a student at Sheldon Jackson College, helped build the Princeton Hall, working especially on the installation of the engine and the stack. He then served from 1942-44 in a war plant in New Jersey, fabricating materials including aluminum housings for radar equipment being newly manufactured.
Also participating in the ceremony were Harry James, Marine Corps active and reserve 1964-75, Vietnam veteran, and Alaska Army National Guard aviator
1976-2006, serving in Haiti, Kosovo, and Honduras; and Bob Herman, Vietnam veteran, Alaska Army National Guard 6 years, New York Air Guard 20 years, and Air Force Special Operations Rescue.