Front Royal residents trace connection back to WWII battleship

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — Paul Savidge III grew up listening to stories his father would tell about navigating the USS Massachusetts in World War Two.

Nearly 22 years after his father’s death on Oct. 28, 1992, the stories keep growing — through Front Royal resident Gideon Gilliam, who also served on the battleship Massachusetts.

Gilliam remembers Paul Savidge Jr., but he never met his family until last year.

The USS Massachusetts baseball cap he was wearing at Calvary Episcopal Church attracted the attention of Barbara Moore-Savidge, who recognized it as the same style her father-in-law used to wear, and she introduced herself.

“I was tickled to death,” said Gilliam, 88. “You see, I never really got to know Paul Savidge as a navigator … I was very seldom on the bridge with him, but he was a very respectable guy and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to know him better.”

Through his discussions with Savidge III, Gilliam realized he and Savidge Jr. served at the same time during the Korean War and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Gilliam was a senior grade lieutenant on the USS Wisconsin in Korea and later on the USS Caloosahatchee oil tanker in 1953. Savidge Jr. was operations officer on the commander destroyer Flotilla One from 1948 to 1951, commander of Destroyer Division Fifty-Two in 1953 and commander of the attack transport Fremont in 1957.

Gilliam, whose three brothers and nephew also pursued military careers, admitted he would return to the Navy if he could.

“In fact I’d go right now if they’d take me, but that’s impossible,” he said. “But I enjoyed being in the Navy. I enjoyed being part of a military operation.”

Commissioned in February 1945, he was still in the ROTC at the University of North Carolina.

“They commissioned the class ahead of us, and so we were jumped from sophomores to seniors,” he said. “We all were brand-new junior officers, ensigns headed out to WWII.”

That July, Gilliam and Savidge Jr. were part of a midnight attack at sea. The target, Gilliam remembered, was the Yamaha Piano Company, which the Japanese army had converted to manufacture airplane propellers.

“I was in one of the 16-inch turrets,” Gilliam said. He was in the lower handling room battle station, with two turrets at the ship’s forward and two at the aft.

“Those projectiles weighed 2,000 pounds. We could fire nine of those 20 miles,” he said. “If you could imagine 20 Volkswagons sailing through the air for 20 miles, nine at a time.”

Savidge III remembered the story too: “The ship would rock back and come back down and in the mean time, they’re reloading.”

Another time, writing from Korea, his father explained, “We’re all out here fighting this war so that you don’t have to go to war anymore,” Savidge III said. “And of course we’ve had what, five or six in between, and I was in Vietnam twice.”

His father retired from the Navy as a rear admiral following a minor heart attack in 1964. The same day, Savidge III graduated from Officer Candidate School before heading out on his first tour with the Army in Vietnam from ’65-66.

Recently attending his 50th OCS reunion, he and former classmates remembered how in 1963, after President Kennedy was shot, they thought they were going to war.

“They thought they were going to cut OCS. The day stopped that day,” he said.

“Every single one of my classmates that we met, … all remembered that.”

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com