Film details local war hero’s exploits

JEFFERSON, GA — Jokes about red carpets and paparazzi aside, Ginger Gause of Jefferson knows what she wants to say to the audience before the film about her heroic grandfather starts.

“I want to stand up and tell everybody thank you for donating and helping with this project,” she said. “As family, I’m just grateful to everyone for fulfilling dreams. … It’s just God coming on through.”

Gause is an integral part of a group of people, including Garland Reynolds and Abit Massey of Gainesville, promoting a documentary about Army Maj. Damon J. “Rocky” Gause, a Jefferson native and World War II hero.

“It is one of the better individual stories on World War II that I’ve ever come across,” said Tim Gray, chairman of the World War II Foundation and the film’s producer.

“It’s got every element in it. It really should be a full-length movie and someday it will be, but I think we should at least get it into a documentary form.”

The 90-minute film is expected to get broadcast at some point on Public Broadcasting System stations. Before that happens, area residents can view the film at a world premiere set for Nov. 8 at the William Duncan Martin Performing Arts Center in Jefferson.

The documentary 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 swim 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, which would be reviewed by The New York Times. Mother and son have since died.

Hollywood became quickly interested in the book. Variety reported in February 1999 that Miramax Films bought the rights to Gause’s story, with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck serving as executive producers.

“Ensuing difficulties with the script, however, led to the movie being scrapped,” said Reynolds, a Gainesville architect who has taken on other projects of historic note.

The documentary took shape about two to three years ago when Reynolds and Gray were driving to Atlanta. Reynolds suggested Gray look into Gause’s story.

Gray wasn’t familiar then with the story, so Reynolds promised to send him a copy of the book. Gray beat him to the punch, however, looking it up online and later telling Reynolds, “That’s the most incredible journal I’ve ever read. I’ve got to do a documentary on it.”

But the film required about $100,000 to be raised. Companies and individuals contributed, making it a reality, Reynolds said.

“I put the money up myself for the trailer,” he said.

In a meeting last week at Jefferson High School to discuss the premiere and other particulars, such as advance publicity, Reynolds said, “Let’s not sell ourselves short on this. This is a major … international documentary. It will be played over and over again on PBS stations.”

Massey’s grandson, Chandler Massey, who won the Daytime Emmy Award for his work on “Days of Our Lives,” will narrate the documentary. Kyle Chandler, who has won the Primetime Emmy Award for his role on “Friday Night Lights” also is involved.

And Corey Smith, country music star from Jefferson, wrote a song for the film.

Gray said he believes the story is one that needs to be told.

“Americans live in the present moment. That’s how they live,” he said. “History to them is the 1950s or 1960s. People need to know there were people like Rocky and what they went through resonates today in terms of people overcoming adversity.

“Whatever they went through in 1942 still applies to people’s lives today.”

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