SK3c Gerald James Magee

Unknown Sailor

SK3c Gerald James Magee

When Gerald James “Bob” Magee went home to Utica, New York in June 1941 for the funeral of his brother William, he left a book with his father for safekeeping.

The book was one the sailor obtained after he enlisted in the Navy on or near Jan. 8, 1940. Known as a cruise book, it was a sort of scrapbook of his life on the battleship U.S.S. Arizona.

Thomas Magee kept his son’s book, and before long made its final entry: “This Diary was closed as of Dec. 7, 1941.”

On that day, “Bob” Magee, a storekeeper and petty officer third class, was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His body was never recovered from the sunken battleship.

Thomas Magee wrote that his son was last home to attend the funeral for Bill, who drowned at age 14.

“Two Good Boys gone to an untimely death,” their dad penned. “We loved them in life, let us not abandon them until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of our Lord.

“The Cruise is over. May God have Mercy on them.”

Thomas Magee, an engineer dispatcher for a railroad, and Mary Sweeney, married in 1914. Their third child, Robert, was one when he died of scarlet fever in 1920. Son Gerald James was born Oct. 8, 1921, and soon became known as Bob — the name everyone called him for the rest of his life.

Mary Sweeney Magee died of a pulmonary embolism in March 1931, leaving her widower and six children under the age of 15. Thomas Magee married Isabelle Geruntino in 1934. She later remembered Bob as a sweet boy and a perfect son.

Bob attended Utica Free Academy and worked at the soda fountain of a drug store. He also spent six months in 1939 as a medical assistant at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Jackson, Wyoming. The CCC was a Depression-era federal jobs program for young men.

A requiem Mass honored Mr. Magee’s memory in January 1942 at  St. Francis de Sales Church. The local AMVETS Post 53 was named in his honor in 1946.

Bob Magee’s story doesn’t end there, though. In 2018 students in the Proctor High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Program and three retired Navy men raised more than $3,000 to create and install a granite monument in his honor on Memorial Parkway at the end of the street where Bob grew up.

The memorial was dedicated on Dec. 7, 2018 — the same day the Oneida County History Center opened a display that includes Mr. Magee’s Purple Heart, the official telegrams telling his family that he was first missing and later declared dead, photos, and his cruise book.

HIs nephew David DeSantis had been the caretaker of the book, and at the suggestion of a cousin, arranged for the donation of the rare book — one of just a few cruise books in existence from the 1,177 men killed on the Arizona.

At the dedication ceremony DeSantis recalled that while he was a kid, he didn’t know much about his uncle Bob, but his photo hung in the living room and in the homes of all the Magee relatives.

“God bless Bob Magee and his shipmates who are still at their battle stations aboard the U.S.S. Arizona,” DeSantis said.


Sources: Special thanks to David DeSantis for much of the information in this profile and for the photograph. Other sources include: the Utica (New York) Observer-Dispatch; the Rome (New York) Sentinel; letter from CCC surgeon for Jackson Camp, 1274th Company; Census; grave markers; New York birth, marriage and death index; Greater Utica magazine, January 2019.

Editor’s note: His older brother Thomas W. Magee had been in the Army Reserve when the two brothers decided to enlist in the Navy together and to ask to serve on the same ship. But Thomas argued with the recruiter and left. Thomas served in the Army for 15 years. He was working at the recruiting office in Utica on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and said the line of men waiting to enlist stretched down the block. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

NOTE: If you are a family member related to this crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, or have additional information, pictures or documents to share about his life or service to our county please contact us through our FAMILY MEMBER SUBMISSION FORM