A Damn Fine Gesture
This a story that has lived in the memory of the men of USS MAKIN ISLAND CVE-93 since their service during World War II . It has been told and retold to several generations of children and grandchildren.
It is a different kind of war story. It is not a story of fear, flaming death or grand heroics. It is not even a story of long suffering hardship. Instead, it is a story of friendship for and generosity towards one's shipmates.
When the United States began to build the Escort Carriers (affectionately referred to as Jeeps), their purpose was to ferry planes, engage in anti-submarine warfare and to escort convoys. From this mostly defensive beginning, the CVEs and their Squadrons went on to prove that they were very effective fighting ships.
These ships distinguished themselves in action against both Japanese surface and air forces. They provided air support for amphibious operations and ground troops and attacked enemy shipping and aircraft.
From Lingayen Gulf on through Iwo Jima and Okinawa and beyond, RADM Calvin T. Durgin USN commanded the Escort Carriers Force Pacific consisting of more than 30 CVEs and over 30,000 men.
After the end of the war, RADM Durgin's Staff Logistical Officer, LCDR Price Gilbert, approached him with a proposal for publishing and distributing to All Hands a book to be called "The Escort Carriers in Action in the Pacific". This pictorial story would utilize the large number of action photographs that Gilbert had collected during the wartime campaigns of the many CVEs. He also offered to write and edit the text.
The admiral was originally very receptive to the proposal. However, the project was determined to be impractical because of the logistical difficulty of financing it. Such finanacing would have entailed collecting $2.00 each from all the men on ships that were scattered from Attu to the East Indies and from Japan to the United States. LCDR Gilbert went to his compartment and told his roommate of this disappointing session with the admiral. His roommate asked whether the method of financing was the only objection the admiral had to the proposal. After being assured that it was, he requested that Price arrange for him to talk with RADM Durgin.
At this 2nd meeting, RADM Durgin reiterated his objection about the difficulty of raising the money needed for the project. At that point, Price's roommate offered to personally pay the $50,000 that was needed for the publication and distribution of the book.
That roommate was LCDR Richard J. Reynolds Jr. USNR who was the Navigating Officer of USS MAKIN ISLAND. He had served on the ship since the day it was commissioned until the end of the war and wanted to make this friendly gesture, and a Damn Fine Gesture It Was, to the men and officers with whom he had served.
In case some of you do not recognize the name, Dick Reynolds was the principal owner of the Reynolds' Tobacco Company. At the time he volunteered for the Navy, he was a married man in his 40s with children. He was the elected Mayor of Winston Salem, N. C. and he owned and was the President of a steam ship company that was delivering war materials.
He could easily, on several counts, have stayed home during the war. But he used his connections and influence not to stay out of the service but to get himself in uniform and then to get assignments at sea.
He was an excellent navigator and a highly respected officer. He guided USS MAKIN ISLAND safely over the thousands of miles she sailed sometimes through dangerous and unfamiliar waters and through the fury of nature's storms.
Research indicates that LCDR Reynolds had anything but a tranquil life. He and his family suffered through many tragedies. After a long illness, he died in Switzerland in 1962. It was reported that many times he said that the happiest days of his life were those he spent in the Navy especially the times he spent with the many friends he made on USS MAKIN ISLAND.
In 1993, the opportunity came to allow the men of USS MAKIN ISLAND and her Squadrons to express their gratitude and to pay tribute to Dick Reynolds.
His youngest son, Michael, was located and he attended the ship's reunion in Nashville, TN. He was presented with a plaque dedicated to the memory of his father.
In part, the words on the plaque read:
After Almost Fifty Years, the Memory of his Camaraderie and
Friendship is Ever Present in Our Hearts and Minds.
For His Service During World War II, We All Say,
"Well Done, Shipmate, Well Done."
In this manner the men of USS MAKIN ISLAND and her Squadrons rendered their final salute to LCDR Richard J. Reynolds Jr. USNR.
In the early 1940s, Dick Reynolds was one of the richest men in the United States. Because he was, some might say that he had deep pockets and could well afford to be generous. This was undoubtedly true but where else have you heard of such a Beau Geste made to one's shipmates. $50,000 in 1945 dollars would conservatively translate into $500,000 in 1998 dollars.
There are dozens of other stories about "RJR" that are told by our men. The parties and Hollywood entertainment he arranged for the crew. The helping hand he gave to some of the men with financial and personal problems at home. The airline transportation he set up for some of the men who needed to get home quickly.
I never would have had the inspiration to search for my shipmates and to organize our reunion association if I didn't have the Escort Carriers in Action book to keep fresh all the memories, good and bad, about our wartime service. I was fortunate that this book contained a roster of the men by division or squadron which helped me in my search.
----- Gus Youngkrist
Escort Carriers Sailors and Airmens Association veterans website
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