The Sailor - Joseph Samuel Gatto
The Ship - The USS Missouri (BB63)
Tactical area of responsibility included The Pacific Theater, the invasion of Iwo Jima, the invasion of Okinawa, Japanese held islands
Medals: The Ship USS Missouri BB63 - 11 Battle Stars (one battle star is issued by the department of the Navy for each combat campaign the ship participated in during World War II.) The USS Missouri earned three battle stars, one for the invasion of Iwo Jima, one for the invasion of Okinawa and one for the island bombardment on the Japanese islands.
The Sailor Seaman Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Joseph Samuel Gatto was born the son of Anthony and Mary (Dolce) Gatto on Aug. 7, 1924.
His father was a local barber and his mother worked for the Brocton Preserving Co. Gatto grew up in the Brocton area. He grew up with his brother and close friends; Sam Zanghi, Frank Bennice, Jack Spinuzza, Anthony and Mike Nicosia. While in high school he excelled in basketball, baseball and football. After graduation from the first graduating class of the new Brocton Central High School in 1942, he landed jobs picking berries. He also worked for the railroad and the steel plant before becoming a U.S. sailor
This young Brocton man recalled that his parents had brought him up well by teaching him what was right from wrong and about respecting others. He headed to New York City and knew he would be assigned a ship because he was drafted a gunner's mate from boot camp. Then while he was in New York City, he was sent by orders to his new ship, a brand new shining battleship headed into harm's way.
The ship was the brand new Iowa Class battleship the USS Missouri BB63 - Ordered June 12, 1940.
Builder - Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Laid down - Jan. 6, 1941.
Launched - Jan. 29, 1944.
Named the Battleship USS Missouri BB63
Nicknamed the Mighty Mo, Big Mo
The Sailor and His Ship: The two met in Brooklyn and 2nd class gunner's mate Joseph Gatto was assigned to her mid-ship 5-inch anti-aircraft 5.5-inch gun. When the trials and shakedown in New York City ended, the Missouri departed for Norfolk, Va., on Nov. 11, 1944, and transited the Panama Canal and steamed into San Francisco Bay for her final fittings.
On Nov. 11, 1944, she quietly slipped out of San Francisco and made dock in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 24, 1944. Her duties were to screen for the Lexington class carriers task force. In February 1945 she headed with two carriers to Iwo Jima to provide land bombardments for the Marine Corp task force ready to invade the island. With Iwo Jima secured, the Mighty Mo headed to give support to the USS Franklin, which was badly damaged by the kamikaze attacks. She provided cover for the Franklin's retirement toward the Ulithi Islands.
The Missouri joined the fast battleship task force 58, which headed for the invasion of the Japanese island of Okinawa in March 1944. Because Japan saw the war being lost, she launched her final fist using pilots as bombs, later to be known as the kamikaze pilot. On April 11, one kamikaze hit the Missouri on the starboard side, only feet away from Gatto's 5-inch gun turret. The ship's end lifted from the water line and landed throwing sailors every which way.
As the war was winding down the Missouri encountered submarine activity on a few occasions. The Missouri later sailed to Guam and joined the third fleet commanded by Adm. William Halsey. Here the Mighty Mo had duties for island bombardment on special military targets. The ship's log recorded sailing through a typhoon on June 5 and 6 and watching the cruiser the USS Pittsburgh lose her bow during the storm.
It headed for Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender of the Empire of Japan. This happened on board the USS Missouri BB63 on Sept. 2, 1945
In his utility uniform and knowing the eyes of the world were on his ship, Brocton's Joseph Gatto was reminiscing about Dec. 7, 1941. He and his group from Brocton High School seniors were practicing for their senior play. While taking their break, over the radio it was announced that the Japanese were attacking the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. It was a Naval base the U.S. had in the Hawaiian Islands.
It was shocking to think that any country would dare to attack a possession of the U.S. In the background, Gatto recalled hearing that this means war and another yelling not to worry because fighting a small country like Japan should only last till the end of the week. Gatto knew better.
His thoughts then took him back to Norfolk when he requested time to go home and see his brother who was serving overseas and returned home. This choice came with the understanding when he returned he would be assigned to an active Naval ship. Taking the chance to go home and taking the luck of the draw landed him on this newly completed battleship.
What a stroke of luck! Looking around he saw Adm. Halsey. When the admiral boarded the Missouri he kept it as his flagship for the entire Pacific. Being named the flagship had brought its perks.
Gatto recalled the USS Wisconsin seemed to be the newest battleship because her hull number was BB64. The Missouri had taken longer to complete and had more radar installed delaying her commission. Therefore, she was the last battleship even though she had the lower hull number (BB63).
Gatto looked up at the midship's tower and was amazed that his ship looked great in its ceremonial inspection shape. He was amazed at her length which was 887 feet long and 108 feet wide. She could travel at 30 knots, holding 2.5 million gallons of fuel oil and 30,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 240,000 gallons of fresh drinking water. Her armor was 13 feet thick with 9, 16-inch guns that were accurate up to 23 miles away.
His ship could fire a 16-inch round weighing over 2,000 pounds, 23 miles away and hit a target. Putting it into perspective, it was like firing a round on Central Avenue in Dunkirk and having it hit the target accurately on Main Street in Angola.
Also ready were her crew of 134 officers and 2,400 enlisted men along with an additional 200 high ranking U.S. Navy, Army and Marine Corps officers that were especially invited for this surrender. All this was going on waiting for the ceremony to get started.
After putting on his dress blues, he went to his post to watch dignitaries arriving by car and boat. Looking up at the ship's main tower one could see the awards the Mighty Mo earned. This included one star for Iwo Jima, one star for the 3rd and 5th raids in Okinawa and her third battle star for fleet action against Japan.
One could see 18 small Japanese planes that were shot down. As the ceremonies were getting close to start, Gatto recalled the last night's meeting on ship when the crew was told what led up to the final surrender. It was on Aug. 8, 1945, the crew was told, that a new atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan destroying the entire city. The Japanese high command was then told that unless they surrendered immediately and unconditionally we would destroy one city every week for seven weeks. When the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese called back all air attacks and agreed to surrender as long as they kept their emperor as their sovereign ruler.
Aug. 27, 1945, came and we were leading the greatest force of ships in the entrance of Sagami Wan Bay. It was a great demonstration of allied might. Gatto was assigned to the 5-inch gun mount. Just two on the forward deck, starboard side the Missouri's entire crew was on condition one. All hands on the ready just in case of any hostility.
He was 15 feet from Adm. Halsey's door when Halsey came out and went to the side. He looked out into the sea and the enemy he subdued. He showed no emotion. The Missouri was screened by four brand new destroyers. The anchors were finally dropped for the first time in 58 days. He could see the snowcapped Mount Fuji sitting on the surrender site. Along the beach he could see factories, docks, railroad cars and buildings all very close together with no land between them.
On Sept. 2, 1945, the Missouri became the center of the world's attention as the deadliest conflict in the history of man dramatically ended. It was a Sunday morning with scattered clouds. The ship and crew were well prepared for the event. A green beige cloth covered a table placed on the Admiral's Veranda deck. The surrender documents written in English and Japanese were laid out for signing. The ship was flying the same flag that flew over Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
After the signing, the rumble of motors could be heard in the distance and immediately hundreds of allied planes of every make and country flew over giving the Japanese committee a show of the Mighty Mo allied muscle it called into war. The next day she headed for home with stops in Guam, Honolulu, Panama Canal, Norfolk and finally Brooklyn.
The ship had a non-corrosive plaque placed over the area where the signing took place for people in New York to view when the ship went on display.
Not a day will go by when Joe Gatto doesn't think about the Mighty Mo and being on the ship, manning those 5-inch anti-aircraft guns.
He remembers hearing the Japanese royal yacht arriving and the two principal signers, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yosshijiro Umezu, representatives of the Emperor Hirohito, who requested permission to board the ship. They were the first two people to sign the formal surrender. The two were then followed by representatives from Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Russia. Also invited by Douglas MacArthur was General Jonathan Wainwright who surrendered in the Corregidor and Bataan Death March.
Joe Gatto considers himself a lucky man. He has great family and has witnessed history being made right in front of him.
He also will always have the Mighty Mo with him. Knowing if he ever wanted to he can still walk her decks. This is a story of a sailor and his ship. A story that would have been told differently had he not chosen to go home and visit his brother. A story that if the man at the recruiting hall looked at him and said Army. Thank you Joe Gatto for serving. Thank you for confirming history.
It's people like Gatto one could go and ask about history. Gatto, what was it really like being in Tokyo Bay? His response was each day they read reports of the loss of a Mighty Mo's crew member, leaving us with one less hero than was there.
Being a Marine first I am still fascinated with all branches of the military and Navy ships. Every ship was built for a reason. They each were designed for specific needs. While researching the Missouri and learning it was the last Iowa class ship, yet had a lower hull. Then I found they finished the Wisconsin before the Missouri due to more radar. The Navy ordered and had two more battleships on the planning board but they were canceled. I later that the next two battleships were to be the Montana class battleship had they been built and the two battleships would have been named the USS Kentucky BB65 and the USS Illinois BB66.
These battleships were not built due to the aircraft carrier being the Navy's future. Both hulls were converted to essex class carriers. In closing my story with Joe Gatto, I could see the love this man had for his family, country and his ship. It was a cloudy, overcast day as the signing for the surrender was completed.
A ray of sunshine suddenly popped out through the clouds and shined on our deck. It seemed as if God was watching over us.