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.

Early on March 19, 1945 reports began flooding the Franklin from nearby ships that Japanese zeros were headed their direction. But Captain Gerhes for some reason that was known only to himself did not put the ship on full alert. In fact the carrier was sailing at a condition that was similar to cruising off the coast of San Diego. General Quarters was not called and hundreds of men were actually below decks having breakfast in the galley when a single Japanese dive-bomber cut through the clouds and dropped a dead center strike on the flight deck. The bomb was so deadly that it not only blew out three decks and smashed the galley deck up flat against the flight deck but it set off a chain reaction of hundreds of explosions of the ship's own bombs. It was a massive catastrophic strike.


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.

Once the explosions on the ship subsided and the fires were under control the carrier went under tow back to port. But even before reaching Hawaii rumors began circulating that Capt. Gerhes planned to charge the men who left the ship under their own power or otherwise with desertion. Desertion is a very serious charge in the military and the penalty is death. He issued a letter to the men who left the ship demanding an explanation in writing. It was unprecedented in Naval history that a Captain would charge his own crew with desertion but this is exactly what he did.

James Forrestal
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.

USS Franklin: Honor Restored is available just about everywhere on DVD and streaming platforms including Amazon Instant Video and Hulu. Here is a link to purchase the DVD on AMAZON.



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9 Responses so far.

  1. Unknown says:

    What Captain Gehres did was a criminal act that the Navy should have pursued. Leaving your ship at such a low defensive level has destroyed more than one career. However, his conduct toward the men under his command was disgraceful. The Dept. of the Navy needs to publicly acknowledge this and make it right.

  2. Unknown says:

    What Captain Gehres did was a criminal act that the Navy should have pursued. Leaving your ship at such a low defensive level has destroyed more than one career. However, his conduct toward the men under his command was disgraceful. The Dept. of the Navy needs to publicly acknowledge this and make it right.

  3. Unknown says:

    What Captain Gehres did was a criminal act that the Navy should have pursued. Leaving your ship at such a low defensive level has destroyed more than one career. However, his conduct toward the men under his command was disgraceful. The Dept. of the Navy needs to publicly acknowledge this and make it right.

  4. Unknown says:

    Court Martial not Marshal "Martial" meaning military as in Martial Law.

    Words are important and one must be careful in their use. For example one should not confuse Martial - meaning Military with a very similar word Marital - meaning War. LOL

  5. Thanks for pointing this out. Correction has been made. Best.

  6. Tim W says:

    I remember reading about Gehres when he was in the Aleutians.Given his behaviour on the Franklin, I need to learn more about his time in Alaska, maybe the same kind of command style was present there.

  7. Unknown says:

    I read that the JAG officer assigned to defend the crew pretended to be drunk at the Officers Club. Hesaid that he planned to subpoena Admiral Davidson and find out why he was allowed to transfer his flag to another ship while an 17 year old seaman with burns over 75% of his body,blown overboard 90 feet into the water and admitted to the CCU of a rescuing ship was to be charged with desertion(treason)with a death penalty.Only then did Naval authority step in.My father Ensign Frankly Adams Axson had 5 aerial victories with VF13 butshared 2 victories with his wingman.He was a nineteen year old fighter pilot! He enlisted at 17 years old,we were told he was the youngest fighter pilot in the Pacific.
    May God bless our heroes,my fellow veterans and their families.Frank Axson MD

  8. Simpatica says:

    And what does it say about our Navy that they promoted this jack___ to flag rank? PT Deutermann just published a great novel (Trial by Fire) based on the story. As I recall 2 of the officers on the ship were awarded well deserved Medals of Honor.

    H Helbock
    July 15, 2020

  9. Unknown says:

    Both a disgrace by the Navy and a great honor to those officers and men who did their best under circumstances beyond belief.

    Also, did the Navy Department forget what every recruit knows...the Captain is responsible for everything that happens to his ship, and they promoted this useless officer!!??

    Al Berndt
    USMC 1958-1962

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