The Myth That Wouldn’t Die
I enjoyed reading Michael Shea’s article on the heroic fight to keep the USS Franklin from sinking (“Red Sky at Morning,” July 2009). I have been interested in this story ever since I saw the 1956 movie Battle Stations. One mistake though: all World War II CVs were named after battles! The Franklin was named after the Battle of Franklin, which took place during the Civil War. But even the crew thought the ship was named after Benjamin Franklin, hence the nickname “Big Ben.”
I do have one question after reading the story: What happened to Capt. Leslie E. Gehres? Did he get to command another carrier?
HENRY G. REES
LAS VEGAS, NEV.
It’s true that World War II–era aircraft carriers were often named after famous American battles. But some were named after historic American ships, as the USS Franklin was. Four U.S. Navy ships had borne the name Franklin in honor of the founding father when the keel of the USS Franklin (CV-13) was laid down in 1942; it was named for the previous ships.
According to Mark L. Hayes, a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, the misconception that the Franklin was named for the Civil War battle is a widely held one. “I discovered letters in Franklin’s file dating back to 1946 asking for clarification on the ship’s name. Apparently, confusion over this issue has a long tradition,” he told World War II.
As for Gehres, he retired from the navy in 1948 with the rank of rear admiral, and went on to command a fleet of 14 tuna fishing boats out of San Diego, California. He died in 1975 at age 76.
Celebrating Normandy’s Other Airborne Heroes
Not to belittle the efforts of the men of the 101st Airborne, but I do get tired of the notion that they single-handedly saved the day at Normandy (“Destination Normandy,” July 2009).
Let us not forget that Normandy was the second and third jump behind enemy lines for the men of the 82nd Airborne Division. Both divisions served with honor and distinction, but it was the 82nd “All-American” that led the way and set the standard for airborne operations.
Troublesome Terrain Put Monty in a Jam
I enjoyed the article “Monty’s Armored Smokescreen” by Carlo D’Este (July 2009)—but it raised a question I hope someone can answer. The author mentions that Operation Goodwood’s success was hindered by massive traffic jams. I have read that there were similar problems at El Alamein and Market Garden. Can anyone tell me if it was characteristic of Monty’s staff to overlook potential traffic problems when planning an operation?
Carlo D’Este responds:
The traffic problems in all three operations were the result of restrictive terrain. At both El Alamein and Goodwood the planners had few options and the dictates of the battlefield, particularly minefields, left little room for maneuvering tanks and vehicles. A similar problem plagued Market Garden, when a number of commands besides Montgomery’s 21st Army Group were involved in what was a hastily planned, poorly coordinated and supported operation carried out across an area ill-suited for ground operations, all of which contributed to Market Garden’s ultimate failure. The crucial ground operation by the British XXX Corps to relieve the airborne forces at Arnhem was along a single high way where speed was of the essence. In the end, the ground troops arrived too late and the beleaguered British airborne force at the Arnhem road bridge was lost.
A Lawmaker’s Change of Heart
Richard Frank’s eye-opening account of “Zero Hour on Niihau” (July 2009) is even more remarkable with the perspective of the decade that followed.
Frank writes that California attorney general Earl Warren endorsed the mass evacuation of the Japanese in January 1942. Two years later he was governor when he buttressed his position: “If the Japs are released no one will be able to tell a saboteur from any other Jap.” Carey McWilliams, the longtime editor of The Nation, gave this assessment of the events: “No one person had more to do with bringing about the removal of the West Coast Japanese during World War II—citizens and aliens alike; men, women and children—than Mr. Warren.”
But this is the same Earl Warren who in 1953 would be appointed chief justice of the United States. In that role, he so inflamed public sentiment that the country was staked with billboards calling for his impeachment. Warren’s about-face on race led the court to a unanimous ruling that killed the separate-but-equal doctrine and desegregated public schools.
Unearthing Long-Buried Truths in Nanjing
Upon reading the September 2009 issue, I found out that the Japanese ambassador to the United States made a formal apology to the survivors of the Bataan Death March. It was a welcome sign of courage to face history and came “better late than never.”
On the other hand, as Mark Van Ells pointed out in his enlightening Time Travel article, Japan still downplays—and some there even deny—the Rape of Nanking (today Nanjing). This part of history had been largely left covered in dust for political reasons, and was brought up again only after the struggles between Communist China and the Nationalists in Taiwan settled down in the past couple decades. The Japanese government took good advantage of this situation.
The governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (in Taiwan) protested when the Japanese tried to erase mentions of their brutality from their school textbooks. An atrocity is an atrocity, be there 1,000 victims or 1,000,000. Efforts from people like Mr. Van Ells, who strive for justice without bending to political and commercial interests, are still needed to bring out all the facts.
As a long-time subscriber and a Chinese American, I salute your magazine for just this reason and will always enjoy reading it.
Follow the Leader
Enjoyed the latest issue and as always read it cover to cover. In the article “What If FDR Had Not Run for a Third Term?” (September 2009) the author wondered who would have been president following the deaths of Wendell Willkie and his running mate, Charles McNary, in October 1944 and February 1944, respectively, had they been elected to office in 1940. Until the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, vice-presidential vacancies were not filled until the next election—so the secretary of state would have been next in line for the presidency.
Jeff Shaara’s series of World War II novels is no longer a trilogy, as stated on page 18 of the September 2009 issue; he has begun work on a book set in the Pacific. The jeep on page 27 was manufactured by Ford, not the American Bantam Car Company.
Originally published in the November 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.