World War II aviator receives his wings 67 years late

NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND — Sequim’s Elbridge “Gock” Gockerell finally has his aviation flight wings.

They were about 67 years late, but he’s OK with that.

“It was just an oversight by the Navy, but they made good on it,” said Gockerell, 87, who received his wings Monday.

“That’s a pretty long time to wait to get your wings, but I was pleased to get them.

“I was tickled pink.”

The reason for the delay, Gockerell believes, is because he was never formally trained with other air crewmen in Pensacola, Fla.

Capt. Peter Garvin, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10 commander, presented Gockerell with his flight wings at the air station as Elbridge’s wife, Jean Gockerell; their son, Danny; and great-nephew James Bledsoe and Bledsoe’s mother, Shelia, both of Tacoma, watched with pride.

Members of the PBY Memorial Foundation were also on hand.

During World War II, Gockerell flew the PBM Mariner and the PBY Catalina.

The patrol bombers, known as “flying boats,” entered service in 1940.

At the ceremony, which took place in front of a vintage PBY Catalina aircraft, Gockerell not only received his wings, but also got a signed air crew designation letter and certificate, a flight jacket from the CPRW-10 Chiefs’ Mess with an embroidered patch bearing his name and rank of aviation radioman 2 and a CPRW-10 coin.

“We’re here to honor one of our own,” said Garvin, thanking several members of his command who attended.

“It is an honor to be here with you all — veterans, family members, all those with a shared interest and personal investment in our nation’s defense and its history.”

PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search-and-rescue missions and cargo transport, all of which Gockerell took part in during World War II.

His military stint began in 1942, when he enlisted in the Coast Guard. He later was called into service in March 1943 to attend boot camp in Oakland, Calif.

He joined the Navy the following year and took his first flight in a Kingfisher on March 7, 1944.

He eventually logged 523.3 flight hours in the PBM Mariner, PBY-5A/6A Catalina, JRD Grumman Goose and J4F Widgeon, according to air station spokesman Anthony Popp.

In 1949, Gockerell joined the U.S. Navy Reserve at Sand Point, Seattle.

He went on to receive a forestry degree from the University of Washington and worked for the Department of Natural Resources for 33 years, managing the Olympic Peninsula in Forks until his retirement in Sequim in 1982.

It was Gockerell’s great-nephew who got the ball rolling to get Uncle Gock his rightful due.

Bledsoe had never met his great-uncle face to face.

In fact, the first time they spoke on the phone was last month, following the death of Bledsoe’s grandmother (Gockerell’s sister).

Gockerell sent him a book he had written about his wartime experiences.

And while reading it, Bledsoe discovered his great-uncle had never received his wings.

Last month, he called Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s public affairs office, then followed that up by emailing scanned copies of Gockerell’s military paperwork and aviation logs to Naval Air Forces in San Diego, where they reached Force Command Master Chief James Delozier.

From there, Command Master Chief Eric Schmidt for Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group in Norfolk, Va., took over, working with Scott Mobley, CPRW 10 acting command master chief, to make good on recognizing Gockerell’s earned record.

Mobley and the entire Wing 10 wanted to make it a memorable day for Gockerell.

After receiving a tour of a P-3C Orion, he got some “stick time” at the P-3C flight simulator before heading to the air station’s Command Display in Simard Hall on the Seaplane Base.

“This has been a wonderful day for me,” said Gockerell, appearing a bit overwhelmed by all the attention.

“Seeing the Orion reminded me of the PBMs, where we only had radar and radios, no computers,” he reminisced.

After his first-ever visit to the air station, Gockerell remarked, “I was surprised how big that base is on Whidbey Island.”

Bledsoe said he was happy to play a part in getting his great-uncle honored.

“He plans on making it to 90, and he’ll be talking about this for a long time,” he said.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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