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- The Captain Who Court Martialed His Crew
Posted by : Robert Child Tuesday
This is the first in as series of posts for this Patriotic Week in America. Over the past year I wrote and directed two military films, The Wereth Eleven and USS Franklin: Honor Restored. These are two very different films which both illustrate the heroism in the American soldier and sailor. And what I have noticed is so many people who have watched both films really lean towards the Franklin. Their comments back are very gratifying as the whole mission of the film and the title speaks to it was to "restore honor" to the men who served aboard the ship.
You see this film depicts an injustice that was not well known or even talked about outside Navy circles but it was what drew me to the story. When Joseph Springer and Joe Small asked me to do film I said alright but I have to tell the story of Captain Gehres - no holds barred. And all agreed.
And for folks who have not seen the film and I hope that you do this is the story...
In March 1945 the Carrier USS Frankin was sailing under 50 miles off the coast of Japan. And it made a very enticing target for Japanese dive-bombers who were sent out in waves to sink the prize of the fleet. Piloting the Essex-class ship was Captain Leslie Gerhres and one look at his photo and the footage of him aboard ship and you can tell he had a lofty opinion of himself.
Sailors were literally blown over board 90 feet into the freezing Pacific and those that had no choice being either surrounded by fire or cut off by parts of the blown apart ship jumped into the 50 degree water. Once rescue shipped started coming along side the burning carrier the men who could crawl scrambled off the ship. Many others were carried off both wounded and dead.
Many believed later that it was a tactic to shift attention away from his own failure to put the crew on battle ready high alert status. Gerhes pursued this course all during the time the ship sailed back to Brooklyn for repairs and he did not drop his charges. Finally the situation reached the attention of the Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal who put an immediate end to the court martial.
The anguish of being labeled a deserter by your own Captain was a burden these Franklin vets had to carry the remainder of their lives. And in interviewing the surviving men for the the film it was readily apparent the pain had not lessened in more than the sixty years since the disaster.
And for many having the story finally told meant as one veteran put it to Joseph Springer that, "he could now die in peace". That, in my opinion, is what makes this film resonate. It finally "restored honor" to men who desperately needed it. And all of us on the production are proud that we were able to finally give some solace to these American heroes.