L to R: Fred Grabos, George Feliz, Carl Amundson, Dean Moel, Clete Ring,
Norm St. Germain, Thomas Rane.
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GREETINGS FELLOW SHIPMATES
By Richard C. Moore
October 26, 2013
Well, I have to admit that my five years of Navy service occurred some years after World War II. I am a Korean War veteran, having served five years on destroyers instead of carriers – – – but nonetheless I have come to feel a deep kinship with all associated with the Gambier Bay, and I like to consider myself a “shipmate” with those of you who served on the ship and experienced her tragic sinking.
I salute you who had to abandon ship when the Gambier Bay sank beneath the waves. And I likewise salute your family members who at reunions honor the loved-ones who died then or in the years since. You do well to remember the ship that held fast against a superior force, and the men who fought her gallantly until she was overwhelmed. I wish I could be with you this day.
I was commissioned by the Gambier Bay Association to paint the sinking of the ship. A fine painting by Carl G. Evers existed, but there was a desire to depict the sinking from a different viewpoint, since the enemy surface force was providing the gunfire that ultimately sank Gambier Bay.
My primary contact through all these initial arrangements was Tony Potochniak. Through the years Tony remained a good friend. Since my wife is Japanese, and hence fluid in the language, Tony occasionally asked for her help in translation, especially during his efforts to contact and honor survivors of the destroyer Fujinami that reportedly sailed by Gambier Bay survivors and saluted those in the water. That destroyer that was sunk October 27, only two days after the sinking of the Gambier Bay!
When I was commissioned to do the painting, I attempted to gather first-hand accounts from survivors to gain as much information about the actual event as possible. Board members and others were asked to provide personal accounts on forms I prepared. Unhappily, I believe those first-hand accounts were eventually lost, something I have since regretted. As you may imagine, since everyone was in a different location and circumstance during the action. As I read the accounts I was reminded of the story of the five blind men trying to describe an elephant, accounts varied, sometimes widely.
Photographs of the Gambier Bay and other escort carriers are in abundance. However, none gave me the correct perspective of the ship as she sank. To gain this perspective, I built a simple model of the hull out of styrofoam, indicating all the principle details, including the island structure, sponsons, and gun locations. I photographed my model, added details from photographs, and then did a pencil sketch of the action as I visualized it.
Of course I included the Japanese heavy cruiser “Chikuma,” which was, as I understood the action, the nearest enemy ship to fire upon the Gambier Bay, though others participated.
One memory is very clear: I had lavished some effort on getting the details of the cruiser “Chikuma” accurately, so I envisioned it with some prominence in the finished painting.
I sent this preliminary pencil sketch to Tony, who immediately replied, “If the cruiser had been that close, we would all have died of heart failure!” So in the final sketch, I located the carrier at a far more logical position, as it appears in the final painting.
The painting was received positively and without negative criticism. At least if there was criticism – – happily it was not passed on to me!
The painting was presented to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Museum in Hyde Park on Memorial Day, 1990. Toshii and I did join the members of the Association in this memorable event. Since the group knew that I had been a Navy chaplain, I was asked to provide the prayer on Memorial Day at the Roosevelt gravesite – – an honor I cherished.
Some years later, to celebrate the commissioning of the nuclear carrier George Washington, I was asked by the Association to do a painting for presentation to the ship the night before the commissioning. Perhaps you recall that the Gambier Bay and the George Washington share the same hull number – 73. Again, Toshii and I were invited to that presentation.
I continue to paint. My working life was spent as a Presbyterian pastor. Painting, for the most part, was an avocation. The painting of the Gambier Bay was a highlight of my painting “career” and another highlight was the assignment to paint the four murals for the display of the German U-boat 505 in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Advancing age is limiting long travel, but I hope the Gambier Bay Association will venture farther east some year to come, so that we can share with you the joys and poignant memories of the ship Gambier Bay and its gallant crew.
Have a great reunion!
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Received From The Honorable John McCain, Senator/Arizona