Damon Gause is likely a name you’ve never heard. Small-town Georgia just isn’t likely to produce men of renown. But Damon Gause would turn out to be a man among men – a true American hero.
As historian Stephen Ambrose said of him, “Rocky Gause was an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times.”
Gause was bomber pilot during World War II, and had the misfortune of being stationed in the Philippines at just the wrong time – right as the Japanese swept over the nation on their quest to secure all of the western Pacific.
Allied prisoners captured after the siege of the Philippines were forced to endure one of the most harsh war crimes of modern times – the Bataan Death March. During the 70-mile POW transfer, thousands of Allied POWs were tortured and killed, some in ways that defy belief.
Many of the men who survived the march went on to die in camp, and very few managed to escape.
But Rocky Gause did. And not only did he escape, he kept a journal of his unbelievable voyage back home.
After his escape, Gause managed to link up with another American officer, and the two of them used an old fishing boat to sail 3200 miles to Australia and freedom. In his journal, Gause relates numerous instances where death seemed sure, but Major Gause and Captain William Lloyd Osborne defied the odds and after months of island-hopping around the Japanese fleet, finally reached safety.
Once back in the states, Gause was given a month-long furlough and returned home to Jefferson, Georgia – my home town. A son was conceived during that furlough, and given the name Damon Lance Gause. Shortly after his birth, Rocky returned to active duty flying P-47 Thunderbolts on bombing missions. He died in March of 1944 near London while testing modifications made to the P-47 in preparation for the upcoming D-Day landing.
Rocky only met his son once, two days after his birth. Damon Lance Gause eventually published his father’s record of escape, in The War Journal of Major Damon “Rocky” Gause. The term “must-read” doesn’t do the story justice. It is a fitting tribute from a son to the father he never knew, and it allows us all a glimpse into the heart of a true American hero.
Let us all pause today to remember the tremendous measure of sacrifice made by men like Rocky Gause and to live every day with the knowledge that freedom is bought at a great price. This is how they live on.
To again quote Ambrose from the book’s foreword, “he lives today thanks to his accomplishments and recording of them”.