The fleet closed in around the Franklin; cruisers, destroyers and battlecruisers placed a tight screen around her. Captain Harold Fitz, of the USS Santa Fe, rammed his cruiser into the Franklin's starboard hull to take aboard the carrier's wounded and aid in fighting fires on the hangar and flight decks. Captain Gerhes called it the most daring piece of seamanship that he had ever seen. Countless numbers of men jumped from Big Ben to the cruiser. Gunner's Mates Smith and Dodson were prepared to make the same jump, when they saw several men fall between the two ships, only to be crushed as the hulls of the ships crashed together in the turbulent seas. Smith turned to Dodson and said, That's not for me Joe. I'm staying here."
When the Santa Fe sailed away from the Franklin, a Japanese dive bomber sliced through the taskgroup and headed right for the carrier. A 40 mm guncrew took the Judy under fire. The enemy pilot dropped his bomb 200 yard's from CV 13's starboard quarter. American pilots splashed the bomber a short distance away from the taskgroup.
Around 1:00 PM, one of the Franklin's anchors was cut from its chain so the chain could be attached to a tow line. A group of men pulled a 540 foot steel cable through the sea from the cruiser Pittsburgh. The carrier was in tow, moving at only three and one-half knots.
Big Ben's engineers were determined to make the ship operational; she had lost all electrical power, and her four forward boilers were damaged beyond repair. Her electricians located an operating emergency diesel generator. They routed its power lines to the ship's main distribution board. Suddenly, light flooded some of Franklin's corridors, and ventilation fans started pulling out the smoke.
The carrier's lack of boiler power caused by her damaged forward firerooms presented a more defiant problem. They could not be repaired at sea under the circumstances in which Franklin found herself. Big Ben's after boilers were operational, but at present were only supplying power to her after engines. The carrier moved at only 6 knots. The engineers decided to route steam pressure from the after boilers through auxiliary steam lines to her forward engines. It had never been tried before on an Essex class carrier. On March 20, before noon, the Franklin cast off its tow line and was moving away from Japan at 15 knots.
On the morning of the 20th, gunner's mate Smith went up to the flight deck to look for his friend, a fellow Hoosier from Connersville, Indiana, Boatswain's Mate, Ed Hanna. They met near the island. Smith looked up at the command structure. The once trim island was now a battered wreck. The radio mast was bent over haphazardly. The gunmounts were riddled with shrapnel holes and fire damage. The flag mast was hanging on tenuously to the island by a single rope; the ship's flag was wrapped around it at half mast.
My father turned to Hanna, as tears filled his eyes, and asked,"Ed who put the flag at half mast ?" Hanna answered, "No one, Bud. She slid down there by herself." Her stars and stripes were torn by rocket and shrapnel holes; white stripes turned gray by the smoke - red stripes a darker shade of crimson. The 48 stars and blue field were unscathed.
The Franklin's flag is aboard the USS Yorktown at Patriot's Point South Carolina, in a compartment dedicated to it alone. This author has stood before it and felt a lyric dating back to the war of 1812, fill my heart:
Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming ? Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming. And the rockets red glare; the bombs bursting in air; gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave ?
USS Franklin Battle Flag From March 19, 1945
The answer to Francis Scott Key's eternal question was yes! The Franklin was as ripped and torn as her nation's flag that flew above here mangled flight deck; but that ship was not beaten. 835 of her men had died, that is why that flag slid down that mast by itself - that is why those stripes turned blood red and dismal gray. But that blue, starred field remained intact - metaphorically revealing America's secret - the intangible variable that has kept this nation together regardless of seemingly insurmountable adversity - When America is back against the wall, we do what comes naturally to us. We fight back, stick together and win!