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World War II Navy veterans tour Cook Visitors Center

by on June 7, 2012
Five World War II veterans who served on the USS Indiana (BB-58) took time for a snapshot before beginning their tour of the Cook Visitors Center. From left are Sam Armao, Billy Miller, Bill Gudell, Bob Gilbertson and Chuck Morgan.

(Story by Bill Downey)

BRIDGMAN, Mich. — The fourth ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the Hoosier State, the battleship USS Indiana (BB-58), was launched in November of 1941 and commissioned into battle in April of 1942.

On June 19, 1944, the USS Indiana fought in one of the fiercest sea battles of World War II, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where she and her brave crew helped sink three Japanese aircraft carriers, shot down numerous planes and survived two near misses from torpedoes. She served in crucial Pacific battles including Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and in 1945, sailed abreast of the ship carrying the dignitaries who signed the final surrender documents ending the war.

In 1956 several of the veterans who served on the USS Indiana began gathering for an annual reunion which took them to various places to share memories and camaraderie — a tradition that has continued to the present. And in May of 2012, one of the group’s reunion tour stops included the Cook Visitors Center.

Bob Gilbertson, one of five surviving veterans from the USS Indiana, and his wife Carmella, were hosting four other veterans and their family members for this year’s reunion at their cottage on Paw Paw Lake. The other four veterans included Billy Miller, Bill Gudell, Sam Armao, and Chuck Morgan — who celebrated his 89th birthday on this reunion trip. Carmella thought the Cook Center would be a great place to visit.

“We had never seen the Cook Plant ourselves in the time we’d been living in this area and thought it would be both interesting and fun for the whole gang,” Carmella said.

The group enjoyed their Cook tour and shared some stories about their experiences in the war from the torpedo scares, to seeing the faces of kamikaze pilots as their flaming planes tumbled over the deck of the battleship, to witnessing the signing of surrender documents in Tokyo Bay that signaled the end of the war.

“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” said Morgan. “None of us ever will.”

USS Indiana facts

  • Displacement: 35,000 tons (standard).
  • Dimensions: 680 feet (overall length); 108 feet, 2 inches (maximum beam).
  • Powerplant: 130,000 horsepower steam turbines, producing 27-knot maximum speed.
  • Armament (Main Battery): Nine 16″/45 guns in three triple turrets.
  • Armament (Secondary Battery): Twenty 5″/38 guns in 10 twin mountings (10 guns on each side of the ship).
  • Major battle participation — Guadalcanal (January-February 1943), New Georgia (June to July 1943), Gilbert Islands (November 1943), Marshall Islands (January 1944), Caroline Islands (April-May 1944), Saipan and Battle of Philippine Sea (June 1944), Palaus and Philippines (August-September 1944), Iwo Jima (February-March 1945), Okinawa and Gunto (March-June 1945), Ryuku and Japan mainland bombardments (June-July 1945).
  • Placed in reserve status in September 1946, decommissioned in 1947. Sold for scrapping, October 1963.

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One Comment
  1. (I am posting for my mother who does not have Facebook) My father Don Elliott served on the USS Indiana. It was great reading your story. It would be nice to talk to someone who knew him and served with him. He lived in Michigan all his life. –Patti Morrison–

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