George Gallagher of Englewood, Fla. was serving aboard the USS Trutta, a Tench-Class submarine, as a motor machinist-mate 2nd/class when they picked up a downed P-51 Mustang fighter pilot who was shot down and adrift almost a week in a yellow life raft in the East China Sea.
“We were manning a lifeguard station when we came across the downed fighter pilot. We were on the surface sailing along when we accidentally found him in his raft,” Gallagher recalled more than 65 years later. “Every 100 miles there was an American submarine standing lifeguard duty from the coast of Japan to Saipan where B-29 bombers were flying off on their raids over Tokyo.
“I don’t recall his name because it was so long ago. The pilot had been floating around for six days and seven nights when we ran into the him by accident. He waived to use as we pulled up alongside his rubber raft and took him aboard. He was a happy guy,” Gallagher recalled.
“Given the fact he had been in his rubber raft for almost a week he was in pretty good shape. We took him to Saipan,” he said.
The Congressional Record of Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1945 picks up the story from there:
“Forced down in Japanese waters, a Mustang fighter pilot, 2nd Lt. Arthur A. Burrl of Davenport, Iowa, rode out the full fury of a typhoon in his frail, one-man rubber raft.
“For hours as the typhoon howled with unabated force, he clung desperately to his raft. Several times he was washed off by the impact of the towering waves, which swallowed his craft, bouncing it around like a rubber ball. But each time Burrl managed to crawl back aboard.
“In the six days before the storm he had lived on chocolate bars and other concentrated foods and water provided pilots for emergencies. What little food he had left was lost in the typhoon.
“The submarine skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Franz Hoskins, United States Naval Reserve, of Tacoma, Wash., whose boat rescued Burrl said he was covered with sores. His skin was badly lacerated and he was badly sunburned. He was slightly delirious and talked incoherently. But on the whole his conditions as fairly good.”
The same typhoon that had caused Burrl big problems in his rubber raft hadn’t been easy on the crew of the Trutta either. To escape the 100 knot winds Capt. Hoskins took her down 200 feet where she rode out the storm.
“We stayed submerged all that day and the night,” the skipper continued. “We surfaced the next day and the sea was calm. That’s when we sighted Burrl’s raft.”
After serving aboard the Trutta, Gallagher was transferred to the USS Razerback, a newer Balao-class sub. On Nov. 15, 1944 the sub was sailing in the Luzon Straits accompanied by two other submarines–the Trepang and Segundo — when the trio damaged the 6,933 ton Japanese freighter Kenjo Maru. Three weeks later Gallagher and the Razorback sank the destroyer Kuretake and damaged another freighter.
While on lifeguard duty on May 5 off the coast of Japan the Razorback rescued Lt. Col. Charles E. Taylor, a P-51 Mustang pilot who flew with the 21st Fighter Group. Ten days later the sub picked up four B-29 crew-members shot down on their return trip from bombing Kobe, Japan.
On Aug. 31, 1945 the Razorback sailed into Tokyo Bay to participate with 11 other American submarines in the formal surrender ceremony that ended World War II.
When the Razorback returned to Pearl Harbor, Gallagher’s older bother, Tim, was standing on the pier waiting for the submarine to tie up.
“I didn’t even know he was in the Navy at the time. They drafted him and he was 39-years old and had two kids,” he explained.
George continued on to the States aboard the Razorback. The boat sailed through the Panama Canal an up the East Coast to Newport, R.I. He was discharged from the Navy several months later.
Gallagher wasn’t too happy with himself at the time. He had become a big drinker and civilian life wasn’t working out for him. A year later he re-upped and returned to the navy serving aboard the cruiser Juneau and the destroyer Soley during his last two-year hitch.
After getting out of the service a second time he went to work for a trucking firm in his home town of Buffalo, N.Y. With an alcohol problem he couldn’t seem to shake, Gallagher ironically trucked whiskey to bars and distributors around town.
“I decided I had caused my family enough grief by drinking too much about the time my six child was born,” he said. He’s been sober for decades.
What he’s most proud of are the years he spent as a volunteer at the “Night Peoples Drop-In Center” that helped Skid Row alcoholics at a store front on West Chippewa St. in downtown Buffalo. People down on their luck, primarily because they drank too much, could stop in and get a cup of coffee, a sandwich or a bowl of soup.
Gallagher and his first wife, Margaret, have six children: Frank, Kathleen, Mark, Pam, Tom and Bobby. After Margaret died, he married Helen, her best friend. They moved to Englewood 13 years ago.
Name: George Robert Gallagher
D.O.B: 10 Dec. 1922
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 29 June 1942
Discharged: 14 Dec. 1945
Rank: Machinest Mate 2nd/Class
Unit: USS Razorback and USS Trutta
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Gallagher’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
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