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Those Who Served
Richard Willer (U. S. Marine Corps, WWII) Interview 2013
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WWII Sandusky County Purple Heart Recipient

MARCH 2013



U. S. S. Gambier Bay

Sandusky County Purple Heart WWII

Cole Memorial Service 1946

Sandusky County War History Commission

The Ohio War History Commission was established in 1942 for the purpose of collectiing data on the state's service men and women for its historical record. Authorized by Governor John Bricker, the commission encouraged the formation of individual organizations throughout the state. Of particular importance to the state representatives was the collection of newspaper clippings on service men and women. The commision also encouraged the collection of photographs, articles, and posters related to the war effort. To provide instruction and suggestions to local commissions, the state commission produced a monthly newsletter titled "Communikay." While librarians and archivists believed letters and diaries of WWII service members were of greater value, they complied with the state guidelines by collecting newspaper clippings.

In November 1942, Sandusky County established its commission. Charged with gathering records, members began requesting newspaper articles, unofficial records, general information, awards, and photographs of service men and women. Because many official records were closed, the Sandusky County War History Commission was only partially successful in gathering and collecting data on area service men and women.

Sandusky Countians created a number of questionnaires. The questionnaire designed for Purple Heart recipients asked for the name; address; date and place of birth; rank; serial number of the service member and the date, location, and circumstances of the award. In addition, the form requested the name, address, and relationship to the service member of the individual who provided the information.

While there is no complete list of service men and women who received the Purple Heart, records show that the Sandusky County commission collected data on 46 Sandusky County Purple Heart recipients. Ten contain identified black-and-white war time photographs of Sandusky County Purple Heart recipients that were included with their questionnaires.

The questionnaire and photograph of U. S. Navy Seaman Second Class Norman Lee Cole of Fremont, Ohio serves as an example. Seaman Cole lost his life while serving aboard the aircraft carrier "U. S. S. Gambier Bay" in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Screened by four destroyer escorts, "Gambier Bay" and her sister ship "Kirkun Bay" escorted transports and amphibious landing ships to Leyte Gulf. With the departure of Halsey's carriers, "Gambier Bay," as part of "Taffy 3," moved off to Samar. During the night, Japanese cruisers and destroyers slipped undetected through San Bernadino Strait and down the fog-shrouded coast to Samar.

Surprised and outgunned, the "Gambier Bay" was severely damaged despite repeated attacks by U.S. planes with torpedos, bombs, and strafing runs. Dead in the water and engulfed in flames, the "Gambier Bay" capsized and sank. Two days later, Leyte Gulf landing and patrol craft rescued some 800 survivors from shark-infested waters.
Seaman Norman Cole, only 17 years old, was one of more than 160 sailors who did not survive.

Gambier Bay

U. S. S. Gambier Bay under Attack

Courtesy of Wikimedia