City recognizes surviving crew members of USS Pittsburgh
November 12, 2015 12:00 AM
Mayor Bill Peduto, left, reads a proclamation honoring Paul Gaudi, 91, of Jeannette, George Jock, 89, of Somerset, and Robert McKnight, 89, of Connellsville, who served aboard the USS Pittsburgh during World War II.
The heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh in 1952.
By Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
George Jock didn’t expect to live.
On June 5, 1945, the 18-year-old sailor from Somerset was aboard the USS Pittsburgh, a heavy cruiser that despite its nearly 14,000-ton displacement was being tossed like a toy by a typhoon off the southern coast of Japan.
“I had visions of being entombed in the Pacific many miles from home,” said Mr. Jock, 89, one of three local men who served aboard the ship and were honored at a brief Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday at the City-County Building. “To put it bluntly, I’d rather serve a month in combat than spend two hours in a typhoon of that magnitude.”
The storm eventually sheared off the bow of the 674-foot vessel, forcing the captain to reverse the engines to relieve pressure on the bulkhead that remained and keep the ship above the waves while the typhoon raged.
“We were all below decks. I was too sick to be scared,” said Robert McKnight, 89, of Connellsville. “I was never qualified to swim, and I’m scared of water.”
The Pittsburgh managed to limp back to Guam, where it was fitted with a false bow that allowed it to return to the United States. The wayward bow lost in the storm was eventually recovered, nicknamed “McKeesport” and towed back to Guam.
Mayor Bill Peduto presented Mr. Jock, Mr. McKnight and Paul Gaudi, 91, of Jeannette, with a proclamation honoring their service and unveiled an exhibit on the ship, including a video, that will be in the City-County Building lobby through the end of the week.
“This is long overdue. We’ve recognized the vessel before, but what we’ve never done is taken the time to recognize the crew,” the mayor said, joined by representatives from the offices of Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.
“I have a special affinity toward World War II veterans. ... There’s very few of them left,” Mr. Peduto said. “Whenever I’m at veterans events and I see someone, I not only go over to say thank you but I want to hear the stories. Very soon we’re going to lose that and you’re not going to be able to hear that story directly from somebody who actually was there. I think we all should take a moment to think about that.”
Months before the typhoon struck, the Pittsburgh made history by coming to the aid of the USS Franklin, an aircraft carrier hit by Japanese bombers in an attack that killed 725 crew members. The Pittsburgh pulled 34 men from the water and rigged a tow line to the burning ship, towing it 120 miles to safety while fending off two waves of Japanese aircraft in what the Naval History and Heritage Command calls an “outstanding feat of seamanship” in an online article on the ship.
Inside his battle station in one of the cruiser’s main gun turrets, all Mr. Gaudi could do to guess at what was happening was listen to the guns.
“When our 5-inch guns were firing, I knew the planes were far away,” he said. “When the 40-millimeter guns started firing, well, I knew they were close. Then, when the .50-caliber started firing, I knew they were right on our tail.”
John Frick, a regional manager for Mr. Toomey’s office, showed the men a recently declassified photo of the USS Pittsburgh towing the USS Franklin out of harm’s way. He said it’s the only time a U.S. warship had pulled another out of a war zone. All three men were given a copy of their exploits that was read into the Congressional Record last week by Mr. Toomey.
“I really appreciate it,” Mr. McKnight said, adding that the Pittsburgh’s sailors had never been recognized for their efforts. “This is the first time.”
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909.
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