Gilmer Thomas, a 19 year old Seaman 2nd Class, reported aboard the
USS Bush on May 26, 1944 while she was undergoing repairs and refitting
at Mare Island. One of the ship's many deck hands, Gil found himself
doing a lot of painting and scraping during his tour of duty aboard
Bush. Gil was part of the 2nd Division, working with other USS Bush
sailors like Chief Bosun's Mate Ralph Garnett and John Spears, BM2c.
The 2nd Division worked primarily on the forward half of the ship.
Soon after reporting aboard, Gil found himself with a number of other brand new sailors whose battle station assignment was in the #2 5-inch handling room just below the #2 5-inch gun. Since no one had much experience, Gil recalls taking some initiative to "read a manual" and get busy. When the Chief Gunner's Mate showed up, a few questions were asked and suddenly Gil was in-charge of the #2 5-inch gun handling room.
Gilmer "Gil" Thomas - S1c
Also assigned to the handling room crew was a favorite shipmate of Gil's, a sailor named James. E. Hall-S2c. While in The Philippines in late 1944 and early 1945, the ship's crew often found themselves at condition "one easy" (1E) ... which meant they spent a lot of time at their battle stations just to be ready in case of enemy attack. To pass the time, Gil and James put their senses of humor and music to use, singing the following on a number of occasions -
Gil says, they felt encouraged to continue this parody of a well known tune by the strong desire of the #1 5-inch gun captain that they be quiet!
On April 6, 1945, Gil was two days past his 20th birthday. Gil's rating had increased to Seaman 1st Class and his buddy James Hall was still assigned to the ship as well. After the ship was struck by the first Japanese suicide plane, the #2 gun was inoperable and efforts were underway to lighten the ship. Gil got his team busy pitching 5-inch ammunition in the handling room over the side in an effort to lighten the ship and increase the odds she'd stay afloat.
When Gil abandoned ship, he started out with a group of men near an upside-down dingy. At the time, the group included the ship's Executive Officer Thomas Owen, Chief Garnett, Narvis Robinson-S1c, Robert Kirby-S2c, and several others. Gil notes "I did not have a life jacket. I was wearing a life belt, which if I passed out I'd probably drown. I swam for a raft, but it got dark and I missed it. Late I came upon a rubber raft (one we kept when we rescued a B-25 crew). We were picked up about midnight." Gil goes on to note some of the guys who stayed with the dingy were picked up several hours later after he was.
Gil Thomas' friend James Hall also survived the sinking of the USS Bush. Both are believed to have been rescued by the LCS(L) 64.
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