“Every day, memories of World War II – its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs – disappear. Yielding to the inalterable process of aging, the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now in their late 80s and 90s … according to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II (were) alive in 2018.” – National WWII Museum, New Orleans
Six of Jacksonville’s World War II-era veterans haveshared their stories with readers as part of a special project between the City of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Progress. They served in the thick of battle, as well as behind the lines and after the war. We thank them and salute them for their service to the country.
East Texas native Frank Goodson, 94, grew up in Palestine, volunteered for the U.S. Navy and did part of his training at Jacksonville’s Lon Morris College.
As a cadet, he met his future wife, Sarah Beall, at a Tomato Bowl Stadium game. However, after earning his Naval Aviator wings as a fighter pilot, Goodson was attached to Night Fighting Squadron 90 aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier in the Pacific Theatre.
Boarding the Enterprise in Saipan, Goodson recognized the name on his new locker of its previous inhabitant, Charles “Gibby” Gibson, who had been listed as missing in action off the Philippines – missing in action was a common fate for fighter pilots, especially so to sea.
The two had been great friends who had trained together, roomed together and graduated together, and as fate would have it, he just happened to be his friend's replacement.
Goodson recalled how the Enterprise set sail from Saipan on March 14, 1945, and how on the next day, the crew was informed of their mission to attack the southernmost Japanese island on March 18. When that day arrived, Goodson was catapulted from Enterprise at 5:30 am and encountered immediate air resistance from Japanese fighters.
During the ensuing dogfights, an enemy aircraft disguised as an American fighter reached the Enterprise and dropped a bomb on the flight deck. Fortunately, for the Americans, the bomb did not detonate. This fighting continued until May 14 – two months to the day from Goodson’s first engagement – when at 7:30 a.m., a Japanese kamikaze pilot reached Enterprise and crashed into the flight deck with a 550-pound bomb attached to it.
Watching the crash occur “spellbound” from the catwalk, he recalls a slight delay prior to the bomb exploding and simultaneously diving for cover. The explosion killed 13 officers and injured 70, with another 8 blown over the side of the ship who were recovered. A total of 23 planes were damaged or destroyed, and though operable, the Enterprise was unable to launch further fighters and headed home.
Night Fighting Squadron 90 had shot down 40 planes and lost 11 pilots, including Goodson’s former roommate and friend Charles “Gibby” Gibson.
“They died so that others might live,” he said. “Our hats are off to each one of them because they made the supreme sacrifice.”
With the war’s end in October, Goodson became part of the Naval Reserve serving until 1955. He married Sarah and settled in Jacksonville.