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Ensign John Gay

When I began to write this post, I thought there was no one in John Gay’s family with whom I would be able to get in touch. That was because for the longest time, I had believed his name had a middle initial—G. I’m not sure where I had come up with the initial because Gay’s name does not appear on any of the muster rolls or deck logs that I had at the time I added him to my spreadsheet. I only discovered that he was an officer aboard the Zircon after receiving a bunch of photographs from the son of Arthur Fleming Drant (F2c), who’d served on the Zircon from the day it was commissioned on 25 March 1941 until 23 February 1942. Gay’s name was written on the back of a few of the photographs.

John G. Gay, Lieutenant Charles Frederick Havemeyer

I think that the G came from a news clipping I’d found in a Pennsylvania newspaper which announced on its society page that a John G. Gay had been accepted by the Naval Academy in Annapolis. It was the only such news item I had found for John Gay at that time. Simply put, I conflated one John Gay with the other because… the Naval Academy. With few exceptions, very little information about a ship’s officers is available via muster rolls, so it wasn’t until I obtained a tranche of deck logs that I found his name listed as the Zircon’s Communications Officer.

28 February 1942 deck log’s List of Officers

This process of trying to locate over four hundred Zircon families requires a little persistence. Failure is almost the norm. When I feel I’ve gone as far as I can go with someone, I move on to the next person on the spreadsheet. Eventually, I work my way back around to those that I had reached dead ends with earlier (I can’t count how many times I’ve been through the spreadsheet).

Gay (left) with Ensign Julius Peter Wilkowski*

I can only hope that in repeating the process, sources such as Newspapers.com or GenealogyBank,com might have “new” information for me. Also, as more and more people create family trees at Ancestry, additional and (often) more reliable information becomes available, and in some cases, there are photographs, as I recently discovered while looking for Sylvester Craven, who was a Chief Commissary Steward in 1941 and 1942.

With Gay, however, I was stymied… for a long time. A week or so ago, though, I came across a Draft Registration card of one John G. Gay, who was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, and I thought I’d at last hit paydirt. I wondered, though, if an immigrant would have so quickly risen through the ranks to Ensign, especially as there was virtually zero military documentation besides the Draft Registration card. As I looked into his family history, I found no survivors. He had one son who’d died young, and another who died but had no children. I started writing, however, thinking that he was the guy, despite my gut feelings.

Wilkowski (knee), Ensign Ed Thorne, Ensign William Dommerich, and Gay behind Lieutenant Commander Cornelius Martin Sullivan

But then, I discovered a Findagrave memorial for John Gay—with no initial—that had an obituary included in the description. Everything in the obituary seemed to line up with the guy I was looking for. There was no middle initial on the memorial, but that’s pretty common as people create pages based only on what’s on the gravestone, and sometimes, gravestones don’t include initials. And then, I found a duplicate memorial that had identical birth and death information, no obituary, but with links to other family members. I got a little giddy thinking that my mystery had been solved.

Using the birth and death dates, I was able to find a tree at Ancestry which included an image of his obituary, which I probably would have found had I not been searching for John G. Gay. With the information about his surviving family members, I was able to find an email address that worked for his daughter Phyllis, and she confirmed I’d found the right John Gay. But, she informed me, “(h)e was always known to us children as John Gay, there wasn’t a G for a middle name.”

Gay (left) again with Wilkowski

A case in point regarding new information becoming available throughout the course of this project, I’m 99.999999% certain that when I began to look for Gay in Ancestry’s military documents a few years ago, I didn’t come across his Draft Registration card. Discovering it now, I see that he registered in New York, which I believe only recently made these documents available.

Gay’s Draft Registration card

The obituary I found at Ancestry (and then Newspapers.com) was published in the Boston Globe, and it differs from what I found on Findagrave in that it’s pretty bare bones. The latter was published in the Southampton Press (which I obtained thanks to a librarian at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton) and provided a brief but good sketch of Gay’s life:

The Boston Globe version indicated that he’d died after a long illness, but did not mention that he’d been hit by a car.

Boston Globe, 18 July 1996

Gay was born in Boston 10 April 1915 to William Otis Gay and Annie Margaretta Dumaresq, and as noted in the obituary, he had six siblings: Sophie Margaretta, William Otis, Dorothea Ellen, Philip Dumaresq, Anne, and Colette.

His family is delineated in Colonial Families of the United States, which was published before Colette was born in 1921.

Colonial Families of the United States

Getting back to his service… he was Communications Officer on the Zircon from 30 August 1941 until sometime in 1942 (since I don’t yet have all the ship’s deck logs, I currently don’t know his detachment date), after which he was promoted to Lieutenant (j.g.) and assigned Commanding Officer of the Sub Chaser, CS-682, at the Submarine Chaser Training Center (SCTC) in Miami, Florida.

The above Report of Changes from 31 December 1942 seems to indicate that the SC-682 was commissioned on 9 January 1942, but I found no muster rolls from before the December date.

Later that year, he reported on the destroyer USS Sturtevant (DE-239) as its Executive Officer, and served for about seven months. Interestingly, the History of the Sturtevant gives him a middle initial… G.

History of the USS Sturtevant (DE-239)

Phyllis said that her father never spoke of his time in the Navy, that “he was badly affected by the war” and likely suffered from PTSD. But… once the family got a television, “he was crazy about watching Victory at Sea.

Post-war, Gay went back to working on Wall Street, an occupation which appears to have run in the family, as both his father and oldest brother worked in world of banking and finance.

*Wilkowski would later legally change his name to Peter J. Wills.

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