New Features Added To Gehres Museum Exhibit At Newark High School
NEWARK _ Some dramatic new features have been added to the four-year-old Captain Leslie E. Gehres Museum exhibit at Newark High School.
Plaques bearing the names of the 998 brave crewmen who died aboard the USS Franklin after it was horrifically attacked March 19, 1945 60 miles off the eastern coast of Japan, by Japanese aircraft have been hung and a replica of the aircraft carrier, which is inside an oak and glass display cabinet, has been mounted under the plaques.
Newark natives Dr. William J. and Eleanor Stewart, who now live in Englewood, Fla. and who spearheaded the efforts locally to memorialize Rear Admiral Gehres in his hometown _ culminating in the museum exhibit opening at NHS in 2002 _contributed the plaques and the replica of the ship.
Newark school district maintenance worker Bob Adams designed and built the beautiful oak cabinet that houses the ship and mounted all the new exhibit pieces.
The Stewarts, who have been in Newark visiting for three weeks, visited NHS August 15 and saw the new items on display for the first time.
"Eleanor and I are very pleased to be able to help this exhibit grow,'' Stewart said.
Stewart saysrepresentatives of the remaining survivors' group _ including Rene Gauthier of Connecticut who spoke at the dedication of the museum exhibit in September 2002, are planning to hold a reunion in Newark after Stewart's book about Gehres entitled "A Call To Duty" is published.
The book will include an introduction written by Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, who wrote it before he died in March.
Stewart, who is hoping to have the book published next year, is finishing the final chapters of the biography. He said it continues to be a privilege to be involved in work honoringGehreswho served his country with distinction and valor and who is arguably one of the greatest heroes of World War II.
When the Franklin was attacked, nearly 1,000 crewmembers were killed and with the ship extensively damaged and in danger of sinking or capsizing, Captain Gehres refused to abandon itand rescued more than 300 sailors trapped below deck and safely removed the injured to other ships.
The direct bomb hit caused the ship to burn for 36 hours and with the number of casualties, it was one of the worst U.S. Naval disasters at sea.
Amazingly, Captain Gehres was also able to save the damaged ship and bring it back over 14,000 miles through enemy waters to the Brooklyn Navy Yard with a skeleton crew of 704.
This remarkable story was the subject of a NBC television-sponsored documentary entitled “The Ship That Wouldn’t Die,” narrated by actor Gene Kelly.
The crew of the Franklin was the most decorated crew in U.S. Navy history. Rear Admiral Gehres was recommended to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1946, but instead received the "Navy Cross.''
Stewart, with assistance from Congressman Jim Walsh, is attempting to have the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded.
Gehres was responsible for organizing the “High Hats” aerobatic team prior to World War II. The team performed at many national and international shows. Occasionally, Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh would fly withGehres and other members of theteam.
Hewas also responsible for driving the Japanese out of the Aleutian Islands in World War II. He was promoted to the rank of Commodore for his leadership skill in this campaign _ a rank that had not been given to any Navy officer since the War of 1812 when Commodore Oliver Perry chased the British out of Lake Erie.
Following his retirement in 1948 from the Navy, he ultimately became the general manager of the National Marine Terminal Company in California. He also served as chairman of the San Diego Republican Central Committee, organizing support for former Gov. Ronald Reagan, former Senator George Murphy and former Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M Nixon. Rear Admiral Gehres ran for Congress in 1950 but was unsuccessful.