World War II is a distant and painful memory for many residents and families of Gasconade County, and few of them are aware that the county had a namesake in the latter stages of that conflict, the …
World War II is a distant and painful memory for many residents and families of Gasconade County, and few of them are aware that the county had a namesake in the latter stages of that conflict, the USS Gasconade... a small cargo and troop transport ship that saw action in the Pacific Theater.
Despite her late entry into the war, having been launched on Jan. 23, 1945, and her small size — the USS Gasconade carried one 5-inch gun, eight 40-mm and ten 20-mm guns — the ship nevertheless entered Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2 of that year while surrender terms were being signed aboard the USS Missouri.
According to the dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, The USS Gasconade was laid down on Nov. 7, 1944, and commissioned into service on March 11, 1945, at San Pedro, Calif., under command of Lt. Comdr. Allen E. Stiff.
After a shakedown cruise, the ship departed San Francisco on May 8, 1945, on a troop transport voyage to the Philippine Islands, steaming via Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok and Ulithi and arriving in Samar on June 3. She returned to San Francisco and steamed with more troops to the Philippines.
Arriving at Leyte Gulf on Aug. 2, the ship eventually proceeded to Manilla Bay, arriving on Aug. 25, to prepare for the Allied occupation of Japan. After the surrender of Japan, the USS Gasconade delivered more occupation troops to Japan and sailed with military passengers for the United States on Oct. 17.
The ship made three more troop-carrying voyages from the states to the Pacific Theater, and docked in Pearl Harbor on Feb. 8, 1946.
USS Gasconade then was assigned to “Operation Crossroads,” a nuclear testing program in Marshall Islands, and arrived at Bikini Atoll on May 30. Designated a target ship for the experiments, she survived an atomic blast on July 18, 1946. The ship was decommissioned in the Marshall Islands on Aug. 28, and towed to San Francisco, arriving on Jan. 27, 1947.
After undergoing structural and radioactivity tests, USS Gasconade was re-designated a target ship and met an inglorious end on July 21, 1948, being sunk by torpedoes in the Pacific Ocean off lower California.
The USS Gasconade was in service only three years, but was more than just a footnote to history. She was there when Japan signed the terms of surrender ending World War II in the Pacific Theater, and survived an atomic blast before target practice finally sent her to a watery grave.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The information for this article was provided by Richard M. Starke, Fairfield, Calif., a former resident of Gasconade in northwest Gasconade County who became interested in the ship after reading about it. Starkey wondered if anyone from this county ever saw the ship. This story was first published in the Gasconade County Republican on Sept. 11, 1991.)
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