USS Franklin (CV-13) “Big Ben”

Two Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their courageous conduct in saving the USS Franklin after it was bombed by Imperial Japanese forces.

“We’re not dead yet!” – Donald Gary, Lieutenant (j.g.) as he worked to rescue men trapped aboard the USS Franklin

On March 19, 1945, the USS Franklin was participating in attacks on the Japanese home islands when a twin-engine bomber struck the Franklin with two 550-pound, semi-armor piercing bombs. This bombing occurred only five short months after the Franklin had been attacked and damaged by kamikazes on October 30, 1944.

Recent accounting has put the numbers at 807 killed and more than 487 wounded in the March 19 attack. All told, the Franklin suffered the worst wartime losses of any surviving U.S. Navy ship.

The sailors of the USS Franklin became one of the most decorated crews in U.S. Navy history. Collectively they received 2 Medals of Honor, 19 Navy Crosses, 22 Silver Stars, 116 Bronze Stars, 235 Letters of Commendation, and 1,155 Purple Hearts (808 of which were posthumous).

Franklin was also awarded four battle stars for her service in World War II.

 

DONALD A. GARY

Rank at Time of Action: Lieutenant (j.g.)

Service: US Navy

Birthday: July 23, 1903

Birthplace: Findlay, Ohio

Unit: USS Franklin

Date of Action: March 19, 1945

Awarded Medal of Honor: January 23, 1946

Medal of Honor Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as an engineering officer attached to the U.S.S. Franklin when that vessel was fiercely attacked by enemy aircraft during the operations against the Japanese Home Islands near Kobe, Japan, 19 March 1945. Stationed on the third deck when the ship was rocked by a series of violent explosions set off in her own ready bombs, rockets, and ammunition by the hostile attack, Lt. (j.g.) Gary unhesitatingly risked his life to assist several hundred men trapped in a messing compartment filled with smoke, and with no apparent egress. As the imperiled men below decks became increasingly panic stricken under the raging fury of incessant explosions, he confidently assured them he would find a means of effecting their release and, groping through the dark, debris-filled corridors, ultimately discovered an escapeway. Staunchly determined, he struggled back to the messing compartment 3 times despite menacing flames, flooding water, and the ominous threat of sudden additional explosions, on each occasion calmly leading his men through the blanketing pall of smoke until the last one had been saved. Selfless in his concern for his ship and his fellows, he constantly rallied others about him, repeatedly organized and led fire-fighting parties into the blazing inferno on the flight deck and, when firerooms 1 and 2 were found to be inoperable, entered the No. 3 fireroom and directed the raising of steam in 1 boiler in the face of extreme difficulty and hazard. An inspiring and courageous leader, Lt. (j.g.) Gary rendered self-sacrificing service under the most perilous conditions and, by his heroic initiative, fortitude, and valor, was responsible for the saving of several hundred lives. His conduct throughout reflects the highest credit upon himself and upon the U.S. Naval Service.

 

JOSEPH T. O’CALLAHAN

Rank at Time of Action: Lieutenant Commander

Service: US Naval Reserve

Birthday: May 14, 1904

Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts

Unit: USS Franklin

Date of Action: March 19, 1945

Awarded Medal of Honor: January 23, 1946

Medal of Honor Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as chaplain on board the U.S.S. Franklin when that vessel was fiercely attacked by enemy Japanese aircraft during offensive operations near Kobe, Japan, on 19 March 1945. A valiant and forceful leader, calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, LCDR O’Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets, and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever-increasing fury, the Navy chaplain ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led firefighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts, despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them. Serving with courage, fortitude, and deep spiritual strength, LCDR O’Callahan inspired the gallant officers and men of the Franklin to fight heroically with profound faith in the face of almost certain death and to return their stricken ship to port.

Franklin navigates the Elizabeth River, off Norfolk, Va., 21 February 1944.