LISTEN to Gordon Caldis on Hometown Heroes
94-year-old Gordon Caldis appears on episode #341 of Hometown Heroes, debuting November 15, 2014. A native of Bertha, MN who grew up in Thief River Falls, Gordon helped lead the Prowlers of Thief River Falls High School to the Minnesota State basketball championship in 1938, finishing a 27-0 season with a 31-29 victory over Minneapolis North.
He headed to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, 50 miles away from Thief River Falls, and competed one year in basketball, one year in track, and three years in football for the Fighting Sioux. Gordon is a 1983 inductee to the University of North Dakota Athletics Hall of Fame. You’ll hear him remember his college football days, hear about the big rivalry with North Dakota State, and find out where he was when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Before long, this son of a World War I veteran had enlisted in the Navy, and after midshipman’s school at Columbia University in New York, he volunteered for PT boat duty. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out why that assignment made him initially hesitant to get married, and what it was that convinced him to marry the University of North Dakota homecoming queen before he headed overseas. Deploying to the Pacific as the commander of PT 522, Gordon was part of Patrol Torpedo Boat Squadron 36, which acquired a colorful insignia designed by the Walt Disney Company.
You’ll hear about some of Gordon’s adventures with the PT boat crew for which he maintains strong feelings. Their close calls included the time a Japanese kamikaze plane’s bullets were just missing the boat. Listen to Gordon tell the story of how the 40mm gun crew on his boat took out that plane with its third attempt. All that was left after that direct hit was one of the pilot’s boots, and a map revealing the location of the airstrip where the attacking planes had originated. You’ll also hear some intense moments he experienced in and around Leyte in the Philippines, including the time he witnessed another PT boat from his squadron limp in after its crew was decimated by a Japanese bomb. Only two men aboard the boat survived, and when Gordon witnessed what happened to the rest of the crew, he knew the same thing could have easily happened to his boat. Click on the photo to the right to read through Gordon’s complete World War II memoirs, which also include his memories of October 20, 1944, the day General Douglas MacArthur waded back ashore on Leyte, fulfilling the famous promise, “I shall return.” Gordon would eventually return home to North Dakota, but you might be surprised to hear who greeted him when he returned to the U.S. in Long Beach, CA. Listen to the program for that famous name, and to hear how he experienced a far greater surprise.
Living on a PT boat throughout his deployment, Gordon had moved around so frequently that mail from home never reached him. He never knew that his wife had been expecting when he went overseas, and he was quite surprised to open the door back home and North Dakota and meet his first-born son, Jack. Gordon and Lenore would go on to have five children, and he can now count 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren among those thankful he made it home from combat. “God was looking after me,” he concludes. After a long and successful legal career in North Dakota, where he served as City Attorney of Grand Forks, as well as state’s attorney, Caldis moved to California to be close to family. He now lives in the Veterans Home of California in Fresno, a beautiful new facility encompassing 30 acres.
If you visit the Veterans Home and run into Gordon, please thank him for serving our country.