The largely unknown story of the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13), “the ship that wouldn’t die,” is one of unspeakable tragedy from combat action in the Pacific during WWII. A surprise enemy air attack near the main Japanese islands turned the ship into a raging inferno of burning fuel and exploding ordnance. Over 800 crew members were killed and hundreds more injured, the greatest number of casualties of any U.S. Navy ship that did not sink. The ship was saved by remarkable heroism and intrepid valor of the survivors. Many were subsequently decorated for their courage, including two who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, making crew of the USS Franklin the most decorated in U.S. naval history. Yet controversies surrounding an unpopular Captain have plagued the USS Franklin legacy for decades and have impacted not just the crewmen but their families in different ways.
Since the war’s end, surviving USS Franklin crewmen have come together at annual ship reunions to heal through their camaraderie, to honor their fallen shipmates, and to raise funds for the installation around the country of memorials to the USS Franklin with the goal of increasing awareness about the ship and its story. When attending the reunions, the veterans are often joined by spouses, descendants, relatives and friends, collectively forming through the decades what has become the “Franklin family.”
Now the surviving veterans of the Franklin crew and air wings are almost gone. The families, many of whom have never known a life without the story of the Franklin, are faced with difficult decisions about how to honor and preserve the legacy of their forebears and of the ship. As they weigh the consequences of ending the reunions, one long-lost granite USS Franklin memorial has resurfaced. They must find it a permanent home, and in doing so, come together for what may be the last time.
In this documentary, we look at the effects of trauma through generations and how families hold the memories of their forebears who have survived a damaging, life-altering event.