A couple of weeks ago, a special visitor came to W.D. Gattis, one of our middle schools, with a special purpose in mind. It all started with a conversation with Bob Pullings, counselor at Gattis, who notified us that staff at Gattis was organizing a special presentation luncheon. Gattis staff put together a potluck luncheon to welcome former Gattis teacher Nolan Craig, who was coming to town to present a book with a special inscription about a historical event that involved a former Gattis student, Joe Luis Gonzales.
Craig was an educator with the Clovis Schools, teaching English at the original Gattis Junior High (which is now CHS Freshman Academy) from 1962 to 1968. Craig himself grew up in Clovis, graduating from Clovis High School in 1955. Upon graduation he enlisted and served in the U.S. Navy. After discharge, Craig attended Eastern New Mexico University, earning his bachelor degree, followed by his master’s degree in 1967. While teaching at the junior high school, Craig was recruited by the FBI and served as a Special Agent until his retirement in 1993.
At the luncheon presentation, Craig fondly reminisced about former days in the Clovis schools. It was fascinating to hear stories about former educators whose names are now so well known throughout the district; individuals whose names are now names of schools, who served as superintendents or in other capacities.
The book presented to Gattis Middle School was “Unsinkable Sailors — The Fall and Rise of the Last Crew of USS Frank E. Evans” written by Paul Sherbo about the tragic sinking of the USS Frank Evans. The USS Frank E. Evans was a destroyer, named in honor of Gen. Frank Evans and was launched in 1944 and was re-commissioned during subsequent wars.
It was while Craig was working in San Diego for the FBI that he happened to be at the Navy yard, awaiting the return of the USS Frank E. Evans from the South China Sea when news came of the tragic freak accident. The Evans had been in an operation with the Royal Australian Navy, working with the ship, the HMAS Melbourne. As a result of a terrible miscommunication, the Evans turned unexpectedly across the path of the Melbourne, which then inadvertently rammed the Evans, cutting her in half. Although many men were rescued, the bow portion of the Evans sank, taking with it 74 of her crew members.
As Craig examined the manifest, he came across the name of his former student, Joe Luis Gonzales and was stricken to learn the fate of this young Clovis man serving his country. During the presentation of the book at the luncheon, Craig vividly recalled the Gonzales family, Joe’s mother; Joe’s sister who was such a remarkably sweet young girl; along with the other siblings.
Later coming into contact with the author of the book, “Unsinkable Sailors,” Craig thought it only fitting that a specially inscribed copy should be presented to the Gattis school library. Principal Tandee Delk graciously received the book on behalf of the school.
Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at email@example.com