How important is commercial shipping? Very important: 95 percent of the world’s products are transported over water. Over a quarter of America’s grain exports and almost half of its wheat are sent overseas from the Puget Sound and the Willamette River.
“In time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as a ‘fourth arm of defense.’ Our merchant ships bear the brunt of delivering military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our forces and allies operating as an auxiliary unit to the Navy.” – usmma.edu/about
Until recently I knew very little about the Merchant Marine except that my father had served on board tankers during WWII from 1943 to 1945. I wrote an article (Ship’s Log 1944 – Echos of World War II) about finding his log book for 1944 showing his time at sea and his voyages from San Pedro in California to various islands in the South Pacific as well as Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and through the Panama Canal to New York City. – thesubtimes.com/2019/05/14/ships-log-1944-echos-of-world-war-ii/
My dad loved the “Road” pictures featuring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. I remember seeing Hope’s “Son of Paleface” in 1952 with mom and dad at the Temple Theater in Tacoma. I found the connection in his log book. Dad was at the Florida Islands (Solomon Islands) where he saw Bob Hope in one of his trips entertaining sailors and marines.
My article received numerous comments from readers who were sent scrambling for maps to see some of the unfamiliar island names. Some had relatives who fought in the Pacific and the article brought back memories.
Eric Chandler wrote, about his wife’s mother who was petite enough to work inside the wings of B-17s, Boeing’s Flying Fortress. Eric also shared, “My Uncle was a Marine Corps officer serving at a forward Supply Base somewhere in the South Pacific, and could very well have been the one your Dad stopped at – Mios Woendi.” His dad turned twenty as a surgical tech at the 5th Marine Division’s hospital at Airfield #1 during the battle for Iwo Jima. His mother was a Cadet Nurse and served in Evansville, Indiana. He also said, “My wife’s Father was a pharmacist mate serving on a variety of warships in the Pacific, including the Missouri.” This certainly struck home, 0ne of my favorite friends from Rotary was Chuck Matthaei who was an officer on the Missouri and was on board for the signing of the surrender by Japan in Tokyo Bay.
There were regrets, too, that most relatives who served did not pass along their memories. There were comments also telling me more about the United States Merchant Marine (USMM)as well as about my father. Larry King added more information to my dad’s journeys, “Re. the Elk Basin: The Elk Basin was a T-2 oil or gasoline tanker completed in April,1944 and put into service in May. It was built in Portland, Oregon. The T-2 was the workhorse tanker for the US Navy, but was built for the US Maritime Commission.” My dad had written S/T when he mentioned the Elk Basin, which usually meant Sub-Tender, which didn’t make sense. Over 500 of the T-2 tankers were built during the war. My father must have been part of the first crew for the Elk Basin.
The Elk Basin was sold to Standard Vacuum Oil Company of Wilmington in 1948, and renamed the Stanvac Bombay. It was re-flagged to Panama in 1955 and scrapped at Keelung, Taiwan in 1962. Twenty-eight years of service.
Sheila M. Sova is the proud daughter of a member of the United States Merchant Marine. Don’t ever call them Merchant Marines. They are Merchant Mariners! Sheila volunteers for the American Merchant Marine WWII Veterans organization. She says, “I personally wish to educate the public of the critical role of the USMM in WWII. No one sings their song “Heave Ho My Lads” or flies their flags on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.”
Here are the last two lines of “Heave Ho My Lads:”
“We can cross any ocean, sail any river. Give us the goods and we’ll deliver,
Damn the submarine! We’re the men of the Merchant Marine!”
Sheila reminded me, “Did you know they lost more men in WWII than any other branch of service per capita?” The USMM was created in 1775 making it older the other four forces and was never segregated. Sheila, revealed, “So many merchant ships were blown to pieces off the coast of FL, Cape Hatteras NC and NY and RI. NOAA has been researching the waters off Cape Hatteras and discovered over 80 merchant ships and 2 U Boats with their sailors still entombed inside. This is how close they were to our coastline.” I had never heard of the USMM anthem, “Heave Ho My Lads,” so I looked it up and found the USMM Academy Glee Club singing it on YouTube.
From Sheila I learned about the USMM Academy and the anthem. I like the song and the academy is still going strong.
I’m not a Merchant Marine, but I am a member of the Transportation Club of Tacoma, so I know how vital shipping and transportation is to Tacoma and Pierce County and of course the United States of America.
“But the most important element in a productive merchant fleet and a strong transportation industry is people – men and women who can lead with integrity, honor, intelligence, dedication, and competence. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy ensures that such people are available to the nation as shipboard officers and as leaders in the transportation field who will meet the challenges of the present and the future.” – usmma.edu/about
The world of transportation delivers many things . . . sometimes out-of-the-ordinary things. On one of my dad’s trips back to his home port of San Pedro, he was met by my mom. He got off the ship with two things to share until he found out the FBI wanted to speak to him. When he wrote home he had been giving simple clues as to what island he had visited, so my mom could tell where he had been. To make matters worse he had smuggled a Japanese Arisaka rifle off his ship. Before reporting to the FBI, they drove around and around San Pedro dismantling the weapon and throwing pieces everywhere.
The second item my dad took off the ship was a Japanese cigarette case. He had bargained for both from a Marine. I still have the cigarette case, which is on display in our home. I would trade it for the rifle. The cigarette case was a personal memento from a Japanese soldier who died for his country.
One of the dearest comments about my article was from my mom’s younger brother James. He wrote, “I enjoyed your story about your Dad. He told me their closest call was a torpedo that missed them by a scant 20 feet!! I have a few memories of him as well. We lived at 328 S Adams when your Mom birthed you. Then we moved to 1250 N Main St. Your Dad got a job selling wooden shades for windows, don’t remember what they were called. They lived with us while he built the house on the road N of town. Don’t remember the name of that st. He hired a carpenter and me. I worked cheap, and MAY have earned my pay… After that was finished, he got a job with Nash-Kelvinator as a bookkeeper in Kansas City. I went up with him and applied at the Index Employment Agency & was hired by the Empire Hat Manufacturing Co. We lived together at 2356 Minnesota Ave in Kansas City, KS. We would go back to Nevada on the weekends in his ’42 Plymouth coupe.. To help pass the time we would often sing duets of current songs, or something we had heard. Sometimes silly stuff like “Razzle Dazzle Root Beer”, instead of Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer, or some other ditty. Your Dad could whistle tunes far better than we could sing them. Then I got a job at Maxwell’s Grocery store. But I remember those trips with fondness…”
All of this information about my father was news to me. I found a photo of the 328 South Adams house on Google. That my dad owned a Plymouth doesn’t surprise me. We most likely traveled in it from Nevada, Missouri to Tacoma, Washington in 1947. He loved Chrysler products. I didn’t know that my dad and my uncle roomed together and I certainly didn’t know they sang together. I don’t ever recall him singing, but I knew about the whistling. I can still recall him whistling the tunes from “Your Hit Parade” in the 1950s. My wife Peggy remembers him whistling as well. Even years later he would still whistle “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” from 1955. It’s a fond memory. I can still hear him.
My dad looks over me nearly everyday. I keep his cap and an ancient coconut from the south Pacific on a bookshelf a few feet from my desk as a constant reminder.
Thanks to everyone who shared.