Friday, August 21, 2009

RIP, USS Gage, APA 168

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The USS Gage, 1944-2009


I'm probably one of about a half dozen people who gives a shit about this, but I was saddened to learn today that the USS Gage, APA 168, the last of the Haskell-class attack transport ships still in its original WWII configuration, was towed off to be scrapped on July 23, 2009.

So what, you may ask.

Well, the thing is, arguably WWII was the conflict that prevented humanity from turning down a path to a future that would have been utterly horrific and evil. Civilization was saved by a bizarre alliance that included the United States as a key player, and much of what the US provided was excellent technology--and not just fast planes, big bombs, and huge aircraft carriers, but prosaic yet necessary items: unglamorous things like reliable and sturdy two-and a-half ton GM trucks, a really good semi-auto battle rifle, and fleets of cargo and transport ships, some of which were built in a matter of days. The Gage was an important artifact of that struggle.

Attack transports like the USS Gage carried the troops and smaller landing craft to the staging points for numerous amphibious assaults. They got the men there, they put them in the water and sent them on their way. 117 of the particular version of transport ship represented by the Gage were built. As of this year, only the Gage still survived, essentially unchanged from her WWII appearance. A few others may still be out there, but they have been so altered as to no longer be the same ships that took part in the amphibious assaults of WWII.

The USS Gage was built under a United States Maritime Commission contract by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation of Portland, Oregon in 1944. She was commissioned in November of that year, and then carried support units to a variety of destination in the south Pacific and took part in the invasion of Okinawa in March 1945. At Okinawa, the Gage sent ashore elements of the 4th Marine regiment and a Seabees unit. After the Japanese capitulation she was involved in duties related to the occupation and also the "Magic Carpet" operation in which she was one of the many US Navy ships that brought thousands of GI's back to the Untied Sates.

While battleships and aircraft carriers were rebuilt for ongoing service, and eventually many were saved as museum ships, ugly ducklings like transport ships were used up, sold off and scrapped. As for the Gage, by the 1950s she was transferred to the reserve fleet and sat there, rusting away and awaiting disposal.

At one point there was a group trying to save her as a museum ship. The Feds tried to accommodate these guys and assigned the Gage status as a potential museum ship and held off sinking or scrapping her. But the preservation group couldn't get their shit together to raise the money for the project.

Not many other people even got the importance of this. At one point a friend of mine tried talking to some people involved with a maritime museum in Oregon where the Gage was actually built. He hoped they might show some interest in trying to save her, but they were apparently too stupid for words and could barely comprehend what the fuck he was talking about. So he gave up. And everyone else has given up. The ship apparently got to the point that it was determined she was past saving. And on July 23rd, the USS Gage was towed down to Texas to be broken up for scrap. The only good part of the story is that some of her bits and pieces are being saved and will be used in the ongoing restoration of the venerable battleship USS Texas.

All I can say is I hope that the people of this country do a better job of remembering the men and women who built and crewed and sailed on ships like the Gage, even if they throw away the tangible artifacts of that generation's effort to fucking save civilization.
~~~

8 comments:

  1. My granddad (dad's side) was a trawlerman who took people out of Belgium in WW2 (he and his uncle mounted a big ass gun on the front of their fishing boat to ward off Fokkers :) ) and to this day I get misty eyed about fishing trawllers :)

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  2. Hey HB, I would be interested to see a picture of that if you have one

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  3. Hmmm, I'll ask my dad, but I don't recall ever seing one so it may just be confined to a family story.

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  4. One quick phone call to my dad later...

    No photograph, but the tale is this. My granddad had relocated to the UK in the war along with many many other Belgians who had access to boats (there is a whole other tales about the UK Gov not letting them land for ages and people eating seagulls, but that is for another day). When here with his Uncle he went back to fishing in the Icelandic waters to bring fish back to the UK - the Germans were sinking any boats bringing food to the UK with either planes or, more often, U-Boats so theBrits put guns on the front of the trawlers and manned them. In my Granddad's case the men attached had poor sealegs so the crew of the boat used the gun themselves and one day my ganddad and his Uncle shot down a German plane. Now at this point my dad says he never believed his dad but it turnes out to be true as both me were given medals and commendations from the Belgian government - both medals are still in the family, but only one commendation still exists (the other lost in various moves, etc.)

    There ya go, we both learnt something here :-D

    p.s. There is a side tale that my dad's uncle (brother of his mum) turned out to be a war hero but no one knew until after his death when the letter and medals were found. I am hazy on details (again) but it involved a river crosseding at Ypes I think, and rescuing wounded men and possible something about a machine gun nest. But the whole experience scarred Uncle Frank so much he never told anyone and just stuffed the letters and medals in a drawer.

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  5. wonderful stories there HB. I had heard things about armed trawlers, but it's more meanginful having the personal angle.

    So your great uncle's heroic actions at Ypres, was that in WWI? I assume it was fighting for the Belgain army he got the medals?

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  6. Hmmm, no, it was WW2 so maybe not Ypres. I'll ask my dad again... hold please caller...

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  7. well said, I actually wrote my rep about this a couple of years back...said he could not do anything...me thinks would not do..but there was a private group working on it...

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  8. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for commenting. Yes there was a private group working on it, and they seemed to have made some progress, judging by the web site they had. I suspect it just came down to not being able to find the money. I think the people who are trying to get the USS Iowa for a museum project at Mare Island are facing a similar situation--they have to raise some serious money to even just stabilize the artifact. But then who knows? I know that another friend of mine wrote to the Mare Island project people offering to help with fundraising and he never heard back from them. Maybe some of these groups kind of set themselves up for failure.

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