Married: June J. Gauthier
Francis E. Gauthier was a World War II veteran.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 19, 2007
You Know What…?
By Howard Riley
Francis E. Gauthier of Saranac Lake, better known as "Gokey," served in the United States Navy in World War II and participated in six invasions in the Pacific and in the major naval battle of the war.
He was aboard the USS Richard P. Leary (DD 664), and once the ship engaged the enemy, Gokey says, "I had been on that ship for more than two years and never set foot on a street." It seems fitting that we also honor the living this Memorial Day as the ranks of our WWII combat veterans are thinning.
The USS Leary, brand-new, was built and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard and launched in October 1943. The young sailor was a "plank owner," meaning a member of the first or "nucleus" crew of that ship. He was sent to Fire Control School in Newport, Rhode Island and then boarded his ship, which was ordered to the Pacific War Theater, assigned to an Amphibious Covering Group.
Fire control, Gokey explained, "was the maintenance of electronics that control guns, torpedoes, gun sights and electric circuits for phones, among other duties."
The ships in his group would go in from three days to a week before the landings, harassing fire during the days and nights, then cover the underwater demolition teams that were clearing mines to open a path for the landing craft carrying troops and equipment. They would do "call fire" from spotters on the beach to fire on certain sites until the troops were beyond the range of the ship's guns, which was 9 miles.
Now I will let this former Saranac Lake village police officer and longtime engineer with the New York State DOT tell the rest of the story in his own words:
"Our first operations were the capture, occupation and defense of Saipan, Tinian and Guam with the 5th Fleet. Next were Paiau, Guadalcanal, and night firing illumination at Ngesebus and Peleliu. In October, we arrived at Leyte Gulf for harassing fire at southern beaches. We met the Japanese Navy in the Battle of Surigao Straits where we defeated the Japanese Navy.
(This was a major sea battle of WWII, and Gokey's ship was mentioned twice in a colorful story in Military History magazine about that battle. It was titled "Battleships: The Last Duel" and said this about the USS Leary: "After they launched their torpedoes and retired, Captain Smoot, aboard Newcombe, led Richard P. Leary and Albert W. Grant against the enemy formation while the Japanese were turning from a northerly to a westerly course. Following their gun flashes, Smoot led his destroyers on a parallel course to the right of the Japanese, and at 4:05 he fired torpedoes at a range of 6,300 yards.")
Gokey continues, "My ship fired three torpedoes at the largest ship in the world and got credit for hits with two torpedoes. In January and February we covered landings at Lingayen Gulf where we were crashed by a Japanese suicide bomber. Next was Iwo Jima where I watched the first flag that was raised. We covered the Okinawa landing on Easter Sunday, April Fools Day, April 1st, 1945.
"We were in the Florida Islands in the South Pacific and one evening we were tied to another ship and I was walking forward when suddenly something landed on my back. It was Jim Latour who had been sitting on a ready box to cool off, and recognizing me, as we had grown up together, had jumped over on my ship. We had been together for two years but didn't know it. You can bet we had some gab."
His ship then left Okinawa and went to Adak and Attu in the Aleutian Islands, and a short time-later, they were notified that the war had ended. They sailed for Japan, anchored in Tokyo Bay, made a short trip to the beach and headed home.
This decorated Navy hero proudly wore the Asiatic-Pacific Area Ribbon with six stars and the Japanese Liberation Ribbon with two stars for the invasions and the battle at Surigao Strait.
In Gokey's room full of Navy memorabilia, including a model he made of his ship (and did I mention that he is master woodworker?), is a copy of the ship's log book. Here is a short entry, clinical and straightforward, prior to the battle of Leyte Gulf: "This vessel was assigned to the Seventh Fleet Bombardment and Fire Support Group which consisted of 6 battleships, 3 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, 16 destroyers and 1 seaplane tender, three days prior to the arrival of the landing force ..." - and another brief entry: "It was during this operation that this vessel first encountered the enemy's Kamikaze (suicide plane) weapon."
Well, Gokey, to you and to all veterans, thank you for serving.