S1c William Frank Gaudette,

Unknown Sailor

S1c William Frank Gaudette

William “Bill” Frank Gaudette was a swimmer, even after his death.

Mr. Gaudette was born Nov. 20, 1920 in Washington to Vine Harrison Gaudette, a homemaker, and George Gaudette, a telegraph operator for the Northern Pacific Railway. The father fell from a window at work in Centralia, Washington and died when Bill was 10.

Vine Gaudette and her two sons moved 40 miles south to Longview, Washington near the Columbia River and the border with Oregon in 1934. The spring 1940 Census said she worked in 1939 as a tier at a lumber mill and her older son, Arthur, at a dairy. Bill graduated that year from Longview High School, where he was a backstroker on the school’s state champion swim team.

Bill enrolled at Washington State College, now Washington State University, and earned a letter sweater in his freshman year for his performance in the backstroke and the 220-yard freestyle. He left college to enlist in the Navy on his 20th birthday.

Mr. Gaudette was a seaman first class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

His brother, Arthur, older by two years, served in the Army Air Forces in World War II and then re-enlisted during the Korean War. He was still in the Air Force when he fell ill and died in 1960 in Spain.

Bill Gaudette’s story lived on. One of his high school teammates, Willard “Wink” Lamb, served in the Army in World War II and then became a carpenter. He didn’t swim competitively for 60 years.

Mr. Lamb started swimming in masters competitions in 2006. He decided to do the backstroke in honor of two classmates — Mel Johnson and Bill Gaudette. Mr. Johnson died of appendicitis two weeks before the state high school tournament. In Mr. Lamb’s words, “they could both beat each other.” 

Mr. Lamb was so successful that in 2019, at the age of 97, he was inducted into the Masters International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Said he of his long-ago teammate Bill Gaudette: “Good man, good swimmer.”


Sources: Portland (Oregon) Monthly; The Daily News of Longview, Washington; The Chehalis (Washington) Bee-Nugget; the Tacoma (Washington) News Tribune; The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington; Census; Washington death certificate; U.S. Headstone Application for Military Veterans; Navy muster rolls; swimoregon.org. Mr. Gaudette is the swimmer in the middle of the front row in the photo from the college yearbook. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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