Local Army legend Damon J. “Rocky” Gause apparently still captivates the Jefferson area, as the Nov. 8 world premiere of documentary about his World War II exploits has sold out.
“Jefferson is coming apart with excitement (about the film),” said Garland Reynolds, a Gainesville architect and a leading organizer for the event. “There’s not another seat left.”
The 90-minute film, being shown three days before Veterans Day at the William Duncan Martin Performing Arts Center in Jefferson, is a retelling of “The War Journal of Major Damon ‘Rocky’ Gause,” published in 1999 and based on Gause’s journal entries.
Gause, who became a P-40 fighter pilot after joining the Army Air Corps in 1938, was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He volunteered to drive a load of food to Bataan, where thousands of American and Filipino troops were being held by Japanese.
Gause had to abandon the truck, jumping into a river to escape, but was captured. He stole his Japanese guard’s bayonet, stabbed him and ran for a nearby beach.
He set out in an abandoned lifeboat for Corregidor, a small rocky island in the Philippines, but had to swim most of the 3 miles after it sank. Gause passed out, and when he woke up 36 hours later, a familiar face was looking down on him — a classmate from Martin Institute in Jefferson, Army Nurse Mildred “Millie” Dalton.
Dalton nursed him back to health as the Japanese threatened Corregidor, where she and several other nurses continued to treat the wounded. Later, under a barrage of enemy fire, Gause swam for his life to the mainland.
Friendly Filipinos helped hide Gause on the islands until August 1942, when he and another U.S. Army officer, W.L. Osborne, repaired a dilapidated 20-foot boat and set out on a harrowing 3,200-mile voyage to Australia.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur presented both with the Distinguished Service Cross.
Gause’s life was cut short in March 1944, when a plane he was testing crashed near London.
His widow, Ruth Evans, married Vernon Carter, an Army sergeant who survived the Pearl Harbor attack and still lives in Jefferson.
She and her son, Damon Lance Gause, or Ginger Gause’s father, turned Rocky Gause’s journal into a well-received book. Mother and son have since died.
The film is expected to be broadcast at some point on Public Broadcasting System stations.
Documentary film world premiere
What: Documentary about Jefferson native’s World War II heroics
When: 3 p.m. Nov. 8
Where: William Duncan Martin Performing Arts Center, Jefferson
Admission: Event is sold out.