Today marks the 74th anniversary of D-Day. As you enjoy another day, please think about all of the troops that landed on the Normandy beaches. Their sacrifice helped end World War II.
The Geer Family is proud to have had one of the greatest generation soldiers in our family. James Gaff is Richard Geer’s Cousin-In-Law and served on that perilous day in 1944. Jim passed away on January 7, 2015 and is greatly missed by his family and friends.
Below is an article highlighting his story as published on January 23, 2015 on jacksonville.com. You can view the original article here by Amanda Williamson.
June 6, 1944: The Longest Day raged. Swarms of soldiers rushed the coastline of northern France in an effort to quell Germany’s hold. Bullets, from comrades and enemies, pierced the air.
Amid the fighting and bloodshed, boatswain’s mate James Gaff, just 18, piloted his Higgins boat. For days, for more than 50 round trips, he worked tirelessly. He carried fresh troops to combat, and casualties back to the ship. Vessels sank in the waters around him, but he would an event that would claim about 10,000 Allied lives.
Gaff, a Navy coxswain at D-Day, a recipient of The Spirit of Hope Award medallion, active participant in the Navy League of the United States, and member of The Greatest Generation, died on Jan. 7. The Ponte Vedra Beach resident was 88.
“We wanted to be worthy of his company,” said Dan McCarthy, a retired Navy captain who eulogized Gaff earlier this month. “We wanted to gain wisdom from him, and we wanted to thank him. Thank him for what he did for our country, our community and each of us.”
Born in Providence, R.I., on Jan. 25, 1926, Gaff enlisted in the military after his junior year of high school. During his time in the Navy, he participated in the Normandy landings, the Battle of the Bulge and volunteered to join the invasion of Japan. The war ended before he had to make due on his commitment, and Gaff was discharged.
He returned to his hometown to complete his education. Upon acquiring his high school diploma, Gaff applied to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., seeking to acquire a college degree under the GI Bill. He graduated in 1951. But it was a chance encounter with a man on a Fort Lauderdale beach that led him to a career in finance. The man, Gar Wright, encouraged Gaff to accept a stock broker position in the area.
While in Fort Lauderdale, Gaff helped Fleet Week, an event sponsored by the local Navy League, rise to prominence. It is now a highly sought after commitment of Navy units. Upon his retirement as a stockbroker, Gaff and his family moved to Ponte Vedra Beach. By this point, he had married Donna, his wife of 39 years, and raised two children, Jim and Bob.
“He loved life and he loved people,” Donna Gaff said. “There was never a dull moment with Jim. He wanted to do it all, and he tried his best.”
In his free time, Gaff enjoyed golfing, skiing, flying, boating and traveling, including trips with his wife to Asia and Europe. After his children attended the University of Florida, he fell in love with the Gators, attending as many games as he could.
“He was my hero, all my life,” Donna Gaff said. But, “a lot of people really did look up to Jim. He was one of a kind.”
The couple hosted countless gatherings for Navy personnel at their home, offering friendship and dinner. But even more so, Gaff sponsored squadrons at Mayport Naval Station, sent sailors to Disney World, funded SEA Cadets and organized an annual golf tournament at The Plantation. The tournament, in its fourth year, is now known as the Veterans Appreciation Day. He was always looking for ways he could help the Navy and better the lives of his fellow soldiers, Donna Gaff said.
“Jim and Donna made it a priority to be at every air show, carrier visit, ship ride, unit homecoming, Navy League event, Memorial Day tribute and Veterans Day parade,” McCarthy said. “He saw the worst of war, and believed those defending our freedoms deserved the highest respect.”