LaDonna Rhodes Staff Writer
Navy sailors who served on the USS CARR (FFG52) gathered in Checotah for their first crew reunion to honor Paul Henry Carr, whom their ship was named for and whose picture hung in their mess hall as a reminder of the great price of freedom.
The USS CARR was named for Gunner’s Mate Third Class Paul Henry Carr, a Checotah farm boy who died courageously during the Battle Off Samar, on Oct. 25, 1944, while serving on the USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413).
Carr would receive from the Silver Star (posthumously) as citied “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Gun Captain of a 5”/38 Mount on the U.S.S. SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE-413), in action against enemy Japanese forces off Samar Island during the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, on 25 October 1944… Although mortally wounded by the premature detonation of a powder charge, fired by hand, Gunner’s Mate Third Class Carr tried unassisted to load and ram the only projectile available to that mount after order to abandon ship had been given. His aggressive determination of duty reflected the highest credit upon Gunner’s Mate Third Class Carr and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
Reunion coordinator Gardner “Gardie” LaMarche was assigned to the USS CARR (FFG-52) as a member of the pre-commissioning crew. This crew came aboard before the ship was fully completed and before it was commissioned on July 27, 1985. They were responsible for learning about the new ship and testing all the systems prior to the government accepting the ship from Todd Seattle Shipyard, where it was built.
“We ensured that the ship came fully stocked with everything from beans to bullets, and I mean everything, right down to the last paper clip,” LaMarche said. “It was a busy and interesting time, but nothing like what was to come once the USS CARR was commissioned. I was assigned as the ship’s Chief Radioman and Communications Officer. I served onboard the USS CARR from 1985 – 1989 and retired from the Navy as a Master Chief Radioman in 1993 after 21 years of service.
“The USS CARR was my fourth shipboard tour and my favorite by far. It’s not that my other ships and shore commands were not excellent because they were. However, the USS CARR was just special because the crew was special. We had and still have an amazing bond that binds us together today. Most of us believe that bond is because our ship was named for Paul Henry Carr and not for a city, state, battle, president or an Admiral. Paul Carr was one of us. We truly did not want to let him and his legacy down.
“We worked hard on that ship, very hard as a matter of fact. So much so that to this day most of us believe that our tour onboard prepared us for anything and everything any other job could throw in our direction. When other ships could not make a scheduled commitment, the USS CARR was called upon. Our actual days at sea were among the highest the Navy had seen in decades. We met every scheduled commitment and took on more than most anyone could ever imagine. We were simply ready for anything.
“Paul Carr’s portrait was initially hung in the ship’s wardroom. That is where the officers take their meals, work and relax. Captain Bob Horne decided it would be better if that portrait was hung in the crew’s mess, known as the “mess decks” where the enlisted men took their meals, relaxed and often did paperwork. It was a stroke of genius on Captain Horne’s part as every single member of the crew saw that portrait every single day. You just could not avoid seeing it as the crew ate three or four meals there every day. The mess decks was located in the center of the ship and every sailor traversing the ship from forward to aft saw that portrait numerous times a day even when not having a meal.
“To say that seeing Paul’s portrait every day had a profound effect on us all is an understatement. Many of us remarked that Paul Carr was with us. I know and believe that he was. Paul was there every single day watching over us for nearly 28 years.”
For many of these sailors, this was the first time they’d seen each other since serving aboard the ship, so there were lots of tales of the seas and fond memories to relive. Several sailors met at several stops in Checotah to include: Monroe’s, the Katy Depot and Price Hall. The Checotah Landmark Preservation Society at the Katy along with the Carr family welcomed the crew of 55 sailors (plus their spouses) from all over the states at Saturday’s reunion.
“This was our first official reunion,” La-Marche said. “Many of us have stayed close with our best friends from the ship but reuniting was the frosting on the cake as it had been a long time since many of us have seen each other in the flesh. We all became busy with life after our tours on the Carr. However, now that we are older and retired or well established in our jobs, we have made time for this reunion that proved too elusive for too long.
“Of course, we chose Checotah for our first reunion because it is Paul Carr’s hometown. The Carr family and the Carr Foundation have embraced the crew members over the years. It just seemed like it was the perfect place for our first reunion. In some way it felt like a home coming even though most of us had never been to Checotah before. It was like a pilgrimage of sorts; a way for us to honor Paul Carr, to say ‘thank you’ to a shipmate who never left our side for 28 years but who never made it back home either.”
The reunion ceremony began with the March on the Colors presented by the Muscogee Creek Nation Color Guard while the National Anthem was sung by Kenlee Rhodes.
The invocation was given by shipmate and pastor, Pastor Myron “Dynamite” Feggins.
Opening remarks and special speakers included: Master Chief Radioman Gardner LaMarche, Checotah Mayor Daniel Tarkington, shipmate Brian Willemssen, Carr family member Jeffrey Rush, and USS Carr Captain Ned Bagley.
Rush stated that Paul Carr’s mother never locked her front door after he went missing at sea. She always hoped that somehow he would find his way home again. So perhaps as the roll call was called in remembrance of all the departed shipmates by shipmate Grallin Butler and while shipmate Steve Hatherley tolled the original bell off the ship, Carr’s spirit finally found rest.
A Wreath Laying Ceremony concluded the reunion as shipmates, Al Zinola and Michael Lewis, laid one beside Carr’s monument. Some of the USS CARR crew and Carr family members were moved to tears as they remembered the small town boy who fought so valiantly knowing all too well “freedom isn’t free.”
“Checotah was definitely the perfect place to have our inaugural reunion. The whole weekend reconnected us fully to the Carr family, the community and to one another,” LaMarche said.