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Roads to be renamed for combat heroes

Special to the Star

On Tuesday, two portions of U.S. Highway 98 in Gulf County will be officially renamed in honor of two Port St. Joe natives who died during combat, valiantly sacrificing their lives in service of their country during times of war.

Together with the John C. Gainous VFW Post 10069, the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners, and State Representative Jason Shoaf, will host the ceremony honoring 2nd Lt. Willis V. Rowan and Pfc. John Charles Gainous.

U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Willis V. Rowan

The dedication ceremony, at 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Dec. 15, will take place at Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill, 8750 US Highway 98 West, Port St. Joe, as new signs are unveiled and the legacies of both Rowan and Gainous are discussed. The public is invited to attend.

From the Bay/Gulf County line to Pine Street will be named for Rowan, and from Pine Street to County Road 382/Industrial Road will be named for Gainous. These join landmarks already named for Gulf County heroes, the Capt. George C. Tapper Bridge, and the Staff Sgt. Clifford C. Sims Parkway.

Rowan, born in Florida on August 30, 1918, graduated from Port St. Joe High School, and then enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. Trained as a pilot, he was commissioned an officer and served in World War II as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force Bomb Squadron. He was shipped out to England in 1943 as part of the 8th Bomber Command.

During his first mission over Nazi Germany his aircraft came under heavy attack. After ordering his crew to bail from their burning and spiraling aircraft, Rowan stayed with the aircraft throughout its final descent, resulting in the loss of his life and his mortal remains. At the time of his death, on Oct. 14, 1943, he was 25 years old. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service and the American Legion Post in Port St. Joe is named in honor of him.

Gainous, born Oct. 28, 1946, grew up in Port St. Joe. He served as a private first class in the U.S. Army specializing in field artillery basic. He served with C Battery, 2nd Battalion, 94th Artillery, I Field Force Vietnam and was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Army Pfc. John C. Gainous, in a painting displayed at the VFW post in his honor.

On the early morning of May 18, 1967, North Vietnamese army forces attacked the 3rd Marine Division headquarters at Dong Ha Combat Base in Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam. Gainous was one of 12 American servicemen killed that day when a barrage of more than 150 140mm rockets slammed into the base. Honored on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, he was awarded a Purple Heart for his service and is among the 7,680 Floridians recorded as an American Gold Star Casualty. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10069 in Highland View is named after him in commemoration of his service and sacrifice.

“2nd Lt. Willis V. Rowan and PFC John C. Gainous are local American heroes who served their country with honor and, in doing so, gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Shoaf. “Join us as we dedicate these pieces of highway in their honor so that they may be remembered by the people of Florida today and every day.”