The USS Gambier Bay/VC-10 Association, Inc., was founded in 1969 by survivors, Anthony (Tony) Potochniak (Endicott, New York), Martin Showers (Akron, Ohio), Charles Heinl (Maria Stein, Ohio), and Edward Haggerty, Legal Officer (Minneapolis, Minnesota). The first USS Gambier Bay/VC-10 reunion was held in 1969 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Below is one of the letters, provided by Robert Belcoure’s son, (Robert, Junior) that went out to survivors once they were located.
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St. Louis Post – Dispatch
Sunday, October 26, 1969
Ex-Sailors Are Reunited – 25 Years After Ordeal
By John M. McGuire of the Post-Dispatch Staff
A tall man sidestepped a cluster of heavily engaged conversationalists, raising a bottle of beer above the crush, and confronted a shorter man, Friday at the Gateway Hotel.
“You son of a gun, you didn’t tell me you were coming,” the tall man shouted.
The shorter man squinted through his glasses, examined the other man’s name tag while standing on tip toe, and said “why you . . . you’ve changed.”
It was exactly 25 years to the day since the two men had been aboard the Gambier Bay, a thin-hulled American baby aircraft carrier when it was sunk by Japanese ships in Leyte Gulf, The Philippines.
200 Are Gathered
This weekend, many miles from salt water, about 200 former crew members of the Gambier Bay are gathered. For most, it is the first meeting since they were rescued from the sea on that day a quarter of a century ago.
Officially, this meeting of now middle-aged men, some with little hair, and bulging waistlines, represented the first reunion of what is called the USS Gambier Bay VC 10 Association, the latest version of a World War II veterans organization.
The ship, in Navy terminology, was an escort carrier. It had planes, guns and 1100 men. Some of the sailors who survived the sinking – now real estate men, school teachers, owners of metal fabricating firms, and in other fields were brought together as a result of more than a year’s research by three former shipmates.
The three, Anthony (Tony) Potochniak of Endicott, NY, Martin (Marty) Showers, of Akron, Ohio, and Charles (Charlie) G. Heinl, of Maria Stein, Ohio had spent their spare time dogging the Department of Defense, members of Congress and Navy officials, in an attempt to trace the survivors of the ship.
Finally, after finding help in Washington, the three were able to compile a list of 425 survivors. Letters of invitation were sent.
Much of the activity at this first reunion involved attempts to find “some of the boys you spent time on a raft with.” All of the crew of the Gambier Bay spent at least two days and two nights in the ocean, before being rescued. Several others recall floating many more days.
Lloyd Carothers, a Portland, Oregon high school English teacher, had recollections that were at times sad. “There were 24 of us hanging onto a piece of plank from the flight deck,” he said. “later, when we were picked out of the water, there were eight. Some lost their grip after taking in too much salt water. Others, in a delusional state, swam away to what they thought was the sound of an approaching ship.”
“Everybody here loves the Navy,” said another man. “There are at least 200 different and sometimes heroic stories in this room.”
Why we are here,” said George LeGath, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin plant superintendent, “is something the kids don’t understand. It’s not patriotism particularly. It’s a common experience. You just want to see the guys you shared it with. We’re not flag-waving.
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