When it came to enlisting in the military in the early 1940s, a 17-year-old Lee Gossett didn’t waver. He enlisted in the Navy just three days after his 17th birthday.
“I decided I’d rather swim than walk,” he said in reference to joining the Navy over other branches of the military. “I thought about the Marines but ultimately I decided to join the Navy.”
He will be serving as Grand Marshal of the Veteran's Day Parade on Monday in Logansport.
Gossett was enlisted in the Navy from 1943 to 1946. He was aboard the USS Zenobia (AKA-52) — an Artemis-class attack cargo ship named after minor planet 840 Zenobia.
He also spent time training in Ft. Pierce, Florida, where he learned to drive an LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel), otherwise known as a Higgins boat. LCVP’s were landing crafts used extensively in amphibious landings in World War II.
“I took training down there and then we put a ship in commission up in Newport, Rhode Island,” Gossett said. “We thought we were going over towards England to be in the Normandy Invasion but they changed our plans — we picked up 140 people that had been over there since 1940 in the Air Force and brought them back to Boston.”
When Gossett’s ship was coming back from England full of troops, it was hit by a torpedo.
“They came to the conclusion that we got torpedoed but the torpedo didn’t go off,” he said. “It just made a hole in the port-side of the ship.”
Gossett says they dry docked for five or six weeks in Boston while repairing the ship.
“After we got that done we made three trips to Reykjavik, Iceland.”
After getting out of the service, Gossett spent time working for Rockwell Standard in Logansport before taking a job with Kingston Products in Kokomo where he worked for more than 30 years.
“They ended up closing the plant down there so I went down to Dyersburg, Tennessee and ran a plant for them for two years before I retired,” he said.
After retiring from the workforce, Gossett has continued to serve his community in various capacities. He served on the county's honor guard burial detail for 22 years where he also played “taps” for 20 years — a distinctive bugle melody played at U.S. military funerals and memorials.
Gossett also spent eight years as a school crossing guard. He had to give that up at 88 when he lost his eyesight. He will be 93 next week.
“He doesn’t see and I can’t hear very well,” said Gossett’s wife Norma, 89.
Asked if they have difficulties communicating, Gossett says he and his wife communicate just fine.
“Oh, she doesn’t have any problem telling me things,” he laughed. “There’s no question about that.”
Gossett isn’t totally blind, however he can’t see well enough to drive.
“He can’t see to drive but he can sure tell me how,” joked Norma.
The Gossett’s have three sons and three daughters, twelve grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
Diana Heathcote and Debb Middleton, two of Lee and Norma’s daughters, say they are incredibly proud of their parents and of Lee’s military roots.
“We are just incredibly proud — any funeral we attend where he is playing taps, we need Kleenex before it’s all over with,” said Heathcote. “It’s very touching.”
Middleton says that even at his age, Gossett is still very patriotic and country oriented.
“He still requests 'God Bless America' every Saturday on the radio,” she said. “Every time we come over to visit he asks us to check on his flag even though he can’t see. Every time we come over he’ll ask ‘how’s my flag?’”
Gossett said his dedication to the United States stems from his time in the Navy.
“Being in the military taught me a lot — it taught me to have self-respect, respect of others and more or less to take care of myself,” he said.
Gossett concluded by saying it would be a great thing for the country if all the young men would spend a couple years in the service.
“It shows people discipline and respect,” he said. “Those are two qualities that go a long way.”