By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN At the age of 18, Dave Gailey of Winsted joined the US Navy. It was the summer after he graduated from high school, and a friend of Gailey’s, who had joined the Navy, was home on leave.
“He made it sound cool,” Gailey said. “It was, and probably more. It was a good experience. I did a lot of growing up in the Navy and met some very interesting people.”
In the four years that Gailey served, from 1979 to 1983, he was in 13 different countries, and he made it to Hawaii five times.
Gailey is a native of Pittsburgh, PA, where some of his family still resides. His parents, Rich and Holly Gailey, are now retired and live in Leesburg, FL.
After Gailey finished his enlistment, he was lured to Winsted by a Navy buddy, Leo Roufs (now living in Brainerd), who was able to get him a job at Littfin Lumber. He moved to Winsted in May 1984.
Gailey is the current quartermaster of Lake Mary VFW Post 9232.
“I believe, as a veteran, it’s my duty to support all veteran causes,” he said.
His service of duty was not during any major conflict, and Gailey wants other veterans, who have served in wartime, to know that he appreciates their service.
“The true military heroes in this country are the ones who served in a war, whether it was in Vietnam or World War II, or any war,” he said.
The VFW is a nationwide organization, and as a member, Gailey is available if veterans have any questions about where to go for help. They can call him at (320) 485-4306.
“There are avenues we can direct them to get help with whatever their problem or situation, or they can contact the McLeod County Veteran Services,” Gailey said.
Veteran Services’ primary responsibility is to provide assistance in obtaining veterans’ benefits including: medical care, financial, employment and education assistance, burial and death benefits, as well as other services or information. To contact Veteran Services, call (320) 864-1268.
Although Gailey never experienced combat, he does understand the hardships of being away from home for long periods of time, like many other vets, having served on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea for three-and-a-half years.
The longest he was deployed was 103 days.
“A little better than three months at sea, and it felt good to get off the ship,” Gailey said.
“If you know a sailor deployed on a ship, write him a letter. You don’t have to say much. Just write him, because he’ll love it,” Gailey said.
“I wrote letters to everybody I knew, hoping to just get a couple back. There is not a whole lot to do and that is one thing you really look forward to, is mail call.”
With a great deal of pride, Gailey described the USS Coral Sea as a floating city that could hold up to 4,500 people 3,500 ships company and another 1,000 air wing personnel.
“Standing on board the ship when we were going through the Suez Canal, you could hardly see the water. It made the canal look like a little creek,” Gailey said.
The Coral Sea was the length of three football fields and was made up of thousands of small airtight compartments.
“When all of the hatches are sealed airtight, you could saw the ship right in half and both ends would float,” Gailey said.
He recalled a time, about 1982, when the ship wasn’t allowed to pull into port in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor because there was a typhoon and the Navy was concerned about the damage the ship would do, not about what the typhoon would do to the ship.
“We had to wait about 10 miles off the coast of Hawaii for the typhoon to pass, otherwise the ship would have wrecked the dock,” Gailey said.
Waiting out the typhoon was about the worst of the storms that Gailey remembers while he was in the Navy. It had the front end of the ship actually dipping under the water.
For most of his deployment, Gailey worked the night shift in the kitchen, baking bread and hamburger and hot dog buns.
His kitchen was lined with 16 ovens and he would make three runs of bread (600 loaves) each night, ready for the next day’s meals.
Having access to the kitchen allowed him to get some great file shots of the USS Coral Sea and its aircraft, in exchange for pizza, something that was not on the regular menu.
“I would make pizza and they would trade me a file shot of the ship or one of the airplanes.
“I probably would have made them pizza anyway,” Gailey said. “I am kind of an outgoing guy who likes to talk to everybody.”
The jets that landed on the USS Coral Sea, Gailey estimates to have been going almost 200 miles per hour when they hit the flight deck.
Gailey called landing on the aircraft carrier a science, and dangerous, and pilots who were interviewed said it was one of the most stressful things they had to do.
“They would have to give it full throttle in case they would miss the landing,” Gailey said. “There are four big cables stretched across the deck and they would have a tail hook that drops down and it catches the plane to stop it. They have to go full throttle because if they miss the hook, they have to have enough speed to go right back up on the other side.”
Planes were catapulted off the deck at full thrust.
“Almost like a gun,” Gailey said. “Steam builds up in a big cylinder and it shoots the plane off.”
Pilots practiced all day, sometimes through the evening, so landing and taking off would become routine in a war situation.
There were many plane “mishaps,” according to the USS Coral Sea Tribute website.
The Coral Sea was called “San Francisco’s Own.” When it pulled into the harbor, everybody on board had to have their dress uniform on, Gailey recalled.
With up to 4,500 people on board, pulling into the ship’s home port of Alameda, CA in the bay area had many family and friends waiting.
“We would line the deck all the way around the ship. Every time we went under the Golden Gate Bridge, there would always be people up there and they would hold a big sign saying ‘welcome home Coral Sea,’” Gailey said.
After more than 42 years of service, the ship was sold for scrap May 7, 1993, making the Coral Sea the largest warship ever scrapped.
From the Navy to Winsted
After he left the Navy, Gailey moved back home to Pittsburgh and with his cooking experience on the USS Coral Sea, he didn’t have any trouble getting a job at a bakery.
“We had 140 restaurants around the Pittsburgh area so we were busy, but it didn’t pay very well,” Gailey said.
He then tried landscaping in Florida for a short time, but said that didn’t pay well either.
It was Dean Neumann at Littfin Lumber who offered Gailey a job in Winsted 26 years ago.
Neumann is still his boss, and Gailey is now the shop supervisor on the night shift. Working nights was something Gailey became accustomed to during his time in the Navy.
Dave is married to Lori (Remer) of Winsted and has two sons, Jared, 17, a junior at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW); and Ryan, 15 who is a freshman at HLWW.