from the personal collection of Leslie Shodo USS SAINT LO (CVE 63)
The following article is from "The Oak Leaf," a newspaper of the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland, California.
Saturday, 8 September 1945
The Army didn't want him because he was underweight, but the Navy thought they could fatten him up, and anyway he had been flying for four years and they thought they could make a combat flyer out of him. The Navy was right, for this week Lieutenant Gordon Andrew Gabbert, USNR got a Distinguished Flying Cross at the US Naval Hospital here in Oakland .
With Composite Squadron No. 65, Gabbert shipped out on the CVE "MIDWAY'' from San Diego on April 21, 1944, to Saipan to take part in the invasion there.
At Saipan they did combat air patrol and covered the Landings of the Marines. After the mission was completed they made Eniwetok, where they took on provisions. From there they went to Mororai on loan to General MacArthur for a second invasion. This proved to be something of a disappointment, for they found only three Japs on this trip. They came eventually to Manus (the fleet anchorage) and thence to Leyte.
It was on the way to Leyte that the CVE MIDWAY was re-christened the "SAINT LO", a name that brings to mind the battle of the Philippine Sea. Some say the ship's luck ran out with the old name, for it was struck by a bomb hit which reached its torpedo stores three hours after Gabbert had made his last take-off from its deck.
On the morning of October 24, Ensign Brooks, who was doing anti-sub patrol, reported that a Japanese task force was coming down San Bernardino Straits. This was contrary to the report of the previous night when this same task force was reported hightailing it for safety. Ensign Brooks, after giving the alarm, dive-bombed them with depth charges before returning to his base.
In the Japanese task force there were four battleships, seven cruisers and nine destroyers, all the newest, fastest and the best of the Japanese fleet. Admiral Kinkaid, who fought in the Aleutians and encountered the Japanese Navy the previous year, when he saw this flotilla , he stated that there were more Japanese than he had ever seen before.
Ours was an invasion force and not a task force capable of opposing a major enemy fleet unit on equal terms, for we had only five baby flat-tops and a small force of destroyers and destroyer escorts! The American commander, nevertheless, decided to make a running fight of it, changed course and ordered planes launched for the attack.
At 7 a.m. Gabbert, executive officer of the squadron, took off in a fighter plane (General Motors Wildcat), along with three other pilots and joined up with planes from other carriers. They strafed the Japanese task force with everything they had, partly to cover the attacking torpedo planes which the carriers had launched and partly to confuse the fire of the Japanese gunners.
Gabbert knocked out an AA gun during the hour that he was out and continued to buzz back and forth over a Japanese battleship until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made two "dry runs" to further deflect the Japanese fire and on his third dry run he endeavored to drop his belly gasoline tank on the ship, but it wouldn't let go. During his stay in the air he had witnessed the running fight between the outnumbered American ships and the oncoming Nips, and had seen two of our destroyers go down under the Jap gunfire.
Since the "SAINT LO" was steaming with the wind and could not land planes aboard, and since the air officer on the ship knew that the planes fuel would be running low, Gabbert was ordered by radio to the two-day old airstrip that the Army had established on Leyte. Here he re-fueled and re-armed his plane and took off once more down the airstrip, back to the attack on the Japanese task force.
The airstrip was a small one, and as he took off he dropped his flaps to gain speed. His right flap failed to drop - - just as the gas tank had done earlier in the morning) - - the plane swerved off the runway and hit a second plane which was stuck in a shell hole, at the side of the runway. Gabbert's plane was a blaze of fire in a second. He crawled out of his plane, with his clothing a mass of flames. Stunned as he was by the collision and the blow he had received when his face struck the gun sight, he finally got his flaming body to solid ground and rolled over as many times as he could manage.
His face was burned, his arms and his left leg, and there were burns on his scalp and further down his neck and back. His Mae West and his back pack saved him from more severe burns, but the ones he had were bad enough. From the airstrip he was taken to an Army held hospital, where his burns were treated and plasma administered. The first night at the Army Hospital was bad, since the Japs made a lucky hit on an ammunition dump and the resulting explosion sent bomb fragments through the tent and even his pillow. Gabbert wanted to make a foxhole, but some unsung Army medic held him down and continued to supply him with drinking water and morphine all night.
On October 26, he made an eight-day trip to Hollandia aboard an LST with a broken screw and with repeated Japanese bombing and strafing en route. The heat aboard the LST was unbearable and there was no sickbay. Gabbert made the voyage on the crippled ship in troop quarters and was very glad to leave it at Hollandia. From Hollandia, at Base No. 117, he was evacuated at Oakland, via Brisbane, Australia, and arrived here December 1, 1944.
If the Army thought he was underweight they should have seen him when they weighed him at Oak Knoll. For when he arrived, Gabbert weighed 100 pounds with his bandages on. Under the bandages there were large areas of infected third degree burns. Gabbert has been the problem child of Doctor Michael Gurdin and the compound plastic surgeons ever since, for some penicillin-resistant bacteria in his wounds have furnished vigorous opposition to skin grafting. He is not sure whether he has had nine or eleven man-sized skin grafts, but he does know that there are very few sound areas on his body from which skin has not been "borrowed."
The job is done now except for a few minor finishing touches. He lives near the compound with his wife and year old son, Don, and he is counting the time when he will return to Dallas, Texas, to enter business with his father. He doesn't think he wants to do any more flying except for the fun of it!