On October 29, 2018, just one day after his 92nd birthday, Gerald Langgood passed away, leaving behind a legacy that included serving during the Pearl Harbor attack when he was just 15 years old.
Things were very different in the late 1930s. Boys fresh out of high school—and sometimes still attending—were eager to start a career in the military. Gerald Langgood, a native of Buffalo, NY, was one of these young man who enlisted at a very young age. He was so young, in fact, that much of his time in the service was technically illegal.
Gerald Langgood was the grandson of Gerhard Lang, who owned one of the largest breweries in New York State. But “brewmaster” wasn’t a job title that young Gerald found appealing, so when he was just 14 years old, he and several of his friends went to a nearby post office and enlisted in the Navy. He told the recruiter he was 17 and, with his maternal grandfather signing off, he was accepted.
Within a year, Langgood was stationed in Hawaii, serving at Pearl Harbor—a tropical paradise. That tropical dream wouldn’t last for long, however, as tensions across the Pacific continued to rise. When the relationship between the United States and Japan reached a breaking point, Pearl Harbor became the target of a devastating attack. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a fleet of fighters and bombers. Langgood was only 15 years old when he experienced his first taste of war.
Langgood served aboard USS Shaw (DD-373), a destroyer stationed at Pearl Harbor. The young gunner’s mate’s shift had just ended and he had just gone below deck to eat breakfast when he started to hear terrifying sounds from topside. USS Shaw was struck several times during the attack, resulting in an explosion that’s become an iconic image of the attack.
According to his daughter, Rosemarie Baudo, Langgood didn’t often talk about the specifics of his experiences at Pearl Harbor but was known for saying that what he did see turned his hair white. As word of the attack reached Buffalo, his grandfather confessed to the family that he had helped the underage Gerald enlist. After living through the Pearl Harbor attack, the American Red Cross tracked down the 15-year-old sailor and he was escorted back to New York.
His return was short-lived, however, and when he turned 17, he was ready to enlist again. Legally, this time. His second stint of service took him to North Africa and Europe, serving aboard USS LST-1010 before he retired and returned home to civilian life in Buffalo.
Long after his discharge, Gerald Langgood stayed connected to the Navy, often attending events and visiting the VA Medical Center to speak with his fellow veterans. Every year on December 7, he would throw a wreath into a nearby river in honor of those lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Gerald Langgood was surrounded by loved ones for his 92nd birthday celebration. He passed away in his sleep later that night, leaving behind a son and a daughter, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.