DISTRICT CHAMPS… The Watervliet Panthers won their District Championship Trophy last Friday night against Delton Kellogg High School. The Panthers continue their quest for a state title this Saturday at 1 p.m. (TCR photo by Sarah Brant)
Thank you WWII Veteran Clarence Gunn of Watervliet
By Angela Stair
Clarence Conrad Gunn was born, raised, wed, and raised his family in Watervliet. Both his grandfather, Dr. John Gunn, Medical Doctor and his father, Dr. John Harry Gunn, a dentist, practiced medicine in the Watervliet area.
A Navy veteran, Gunn was married to Gloria Plasko after the war in 1947, and they had five children, Gregory, John, Sara, James and Patricia. Now, at the age of 93 he lives in The Willows, an assisted living nursing home.
This home-grown son of Watervliet left school in his sophomore year, (1943), to join the Navy and he served in WWII as a Navy Armed Guard from 1943 to the end of the war in 1945. The Armed Guard is a little-known branch of the Navy but it was an important part of the war effort.
Clarence Gunn served on the S.S. O’Henry and the S.S. David Caldwell as a gunner. He was positioned behind the bridge to protect the captain and helm. Although he never saw action, every day he went to sea his life was on the line. Once at sea during a storm that was tossing the ship around, the live ammunition broke loose below deck and everyone was too scared to go down below and contend with it. Clarence went below and used his body, arms and legs to hold the live ammunition in place until the waters calmed and he got some help.
Navy Armed Guard crews served on allied merchant marine ships in every theatre of the war. The assignment was often dreaded because of the constant danger. Merchant ships were slow and unwieldy despite being priority targets for enemy submarines and planes. Furthermore, merchant ships were among the slowest to receive updated equipment.
There was never any intention to give merchant ships the fighting power as war ships. Their primary duty was to take men and material to the four corners of the world, not to seek out the enemy and wage offensive war. Defensive equipment depended in large part on the space available for Armed Guards and on the essentially defensive nature of their mission.
A total of 144,970 enlisted men and officers served in the U.S. Navy Armed Guard during World War II. They sailed on 6,236 merchant ships of which more than 700 ships were sunk and many more were damaged. Armed Guard casualties numbered at least 1,810 killed or missing in action and many more wounded. This was a casualty rate that grimly rivals that of any of the Armed Forces during World War II. Some sources place casualty totals even higher.
Thank you, Clarence Gunn and all the other veterans, past and present, that have served or are serving our country with pride and honor.
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