Monday, June 14, 2010

The Unsinkable Rocky Gause

Major Damon "Rocky" Gause was an Army Air Corps pilot stationed in the Phillippines approximately two weeks after he married Ruth Evans in October, 1941. Therefore, he was in Manila when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941. MacArthur found out about Pearl Harbor sometime late on the 7th. On December 8, Japanese bombers started the air siege on the Philippines. The only reason MacArthur had any forewarning is that heavy fog interfered on December 7th.
Manila, post WW2: most of the bridges down, many bombed houses after invasion and re-invasion. [Manila Hub.]

On December 31, 1941, Gause was ordered to Manila to pick up radio equipment that had been left hehind when U.S. troops evacuated Manila to defend Bataan. Thus, Gause and a companion Connors were some of the few soldiers in Manila when the Japanese closed on Manila. They made it out, the second-to-last convoy. The last convoy lost everyone except one. Gause was part of the defense of Bataan and a major 'scrounger' for supplies for the starving, sick, and surrounded U.S. and Philippine troops there. When Bataan fell, he was off-site with a Sergeant "with whom he'd always had good luck locating supplies". They avoided the Japanese for days by staying half underwater, in mud, and even stealing through Japanese camps.

They tried to get to Manila Bay and on to Corregidor. Sergeant Connors either drowned or was attacked by sharks. A day or so later, Rocky was captured. He made a break for it, returned to the beach (he says, running faster than Jesse Owens in the Olympics) and swam to Corregidor through shark-infested waters, about 48 kilometers away.
[Satellite photo from Wikipedia.] 
The entrance to Manila Bay. Corregidor is of strategic importance, the large tadpole-shaped island in the center.]

When Corregidor fell, he and two Philippine soldiers left immediately after informing the CO; Rocky knew he was already a 'person of interest' to the Japanese. One of the Philippine soldiers was shot. The other two grabbed a bamboo pole, and Gause plus the other able officer swam, holding the bamboo pole between them with the wounded hooked to it. The wounded man, Arrasanzo, knew he was dying. When they got to shore, he distracted the Japanese soldiers, allowing Gause and his friend to escape yet again.

Through means of the Arrasanzo and other Philippine families he knew, Gause hid, eventually securing a boat. He met another escapee, Captain Osborne, who joined him in a fifty-two day island-hopping boat trip to Australia--3000 miles--for a total of 159 days of running, starving, hiding, scamming, enduring, and fighting like hell.

Lt. Damon Gause (R) and Capt. Lloyd Osborne stand by the "Ruth Lee," named for their wives, in the Philippines before taking off on their long, daring journey to Australia during World War II. Since motor oil was rarely available, they often used coconut oil for the boat's motor.  [Picture and Illustration from the Jackson Herald/Jefferson, Georgia.]

I won't go over the whole book: I think you'll want to read it yourself.  But I can't resist giving you the end: Gause and Osborne, just out of medical tents, clean at last but their feet still too swollen for shoes, go to their appointment with General MacArthur in his posh hotel.
"Sir, Lieutenant Gause reports for duty from Corregidor!"
MacArthur stood up.  "Well, I'll be damned!"
Major Gause was 5 foot 5, 165 pounds, a boxer, flyer, renegade, scamp, decision-maker, patriot, and warrior.

He was killed in the European Theater when his plane crashed in the defense of Britain. He left behind a trunk of memoirs and memorabilia from his Pacific adventures, a son he had seen for only two hours, and a young wife. His son caused his memoirs to be published in 1999.

Among the memorabilia: Gause's ship log. His diary, made of paper pressed between cardboard and bound with copper wire, and a first draft of the book. Major Gause also saved the last American flag flown on Corregidor before the Japanese took over.

And though I didn't start this post thinking of today's holiday, there it is: Happy Flag Day, everyone!

The War Journal of Major Damon "Rocky" Gause. Hyperion Press. Still available.
In 1999, supposedly Miramax bought the film rights, but I can't find anything on a film.


Bob G. said...

Have to hand it to find such intriguing stories that everyone else seems to pass over.

And it's usually the "forgotten tales" that are the best.

Nicely done.

The Bug said...

I love this! I would like for there to be a movie - but could they make it without messing it up?

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
There's a lot of 'leg up' in my stories sometimes because of that bookstore exposure. I had an advance reading copy and enjoyed it so much.

Thanks for stopping in!
Ann T.

Dear The Bug,
Yeah, they'd get some twirp to play Rocky and clean him up, and you'd never see it the way he did. I'm with you.

But one can always hope,
Ann T.