Memorial Day was honored in Guttenberg on Friday, May 30 with a schedule of events both somber and celebratory.
The memorials began at Anna L. Klein School with an event featuring a special spotlight on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Fought in late October 1944, it was one of the largest naval battles of World War II and a decisive turning point in the Pacific war.
“When Macarthur was [returning to] the Philippines,” said Larry Giancola, chairman of the Guttenberg Memorial Day Committee, “the Japanese navy had a plan to lure Admiral Halsey’s battleship and aircraft carrier fleet away from the landing beaches so a superior force of Japanese battleships — including the largest battleship in the world, the battleship Yamato — could come in and raid the beaches. And the only thing that stood in the way of the main Japanese battle fleet was a little unit of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and baby aircraft carriers. And that unit was called Taffy 3.”
WWII veteran Raymond Dipietro, a sailor in Taffy 3, recalled his experiences in a vivid presentation to the students and residents of Guttenberg. His ship, the Gambier Bay, was fired upon by the Yamato, described by Dipietro as “the biggest, baddest ship ever built,” from a then-astonishing range of 17 miles away.
Memorials began at 2 p.m. at Anna L. Klein School and picked up in the evening with a parade through town.
The Gambier Bay was one of six American ships lost during the battle (along with 26 Japanese ships). Dipietro was one of the lucky survivors, although it wasn’t easy. First he had to get off the sinking Gambier Bay and out of danger.
“You have to get away from the ship, because when the ship is going down, there’s a suction that will take you down with it,” he said. While he swam for his life, a Japanese cruiser passed close by but didn’t fire upon the men in the water — possibly because they thought the sharks in the water would get them.
Dipietro spent three hot days and three cold nights in a raft without food or water before being rescued.
As a former bugler in the navy (and son of a WWI bugler in the army), Dipietro demonstrated his chops for the audience by playing reveille, mess call, taps, and other military calls.
The afternoon presentation also included the school chorus singing “Anchors Aweigh,” several Memorial Day readings by students, and the presentation of awards to winners of an essay contest focused on the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Later that day the memorials resumed as the annual parade kicked off at 68th St. and Madison, winding through town and ending up at Monument Park on Boulevard East.
Despite a light rain, a substantial crowd gathered to hear Rhonda Reid sing and Mayor Gerald Drasheff speak of the significance of the day, thanking those who served their country in defense of freedom.
A special award was presented to Mrs. Carol McGill, American Gold Star Mother of SSG Timothy R. McGill. Sgt. McGill was a member of the Marine Corps, and later left the Marines and joined the Army National Guard and the Special Forces, or Green Berets.
Sgt. McGill died in Afghanistan on Sept. 21, 2013.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.