Merchant Marine Survivors of World War II

Oral Histories of Cargo Carrying Under Fire


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About the Book

World War II could not have been won without the U.S. Merchant Marine. Crewed by civilian seamen in peacetime and carrying much of the nation‘s ocean-borne commerce, the Merchant Marine became the “fourth arm of defense” in wartime, providing vital support for beachheads in all theaters of operation.
Twenty World War II Merchant Marine veterans are featured in this oral history. Most had at least one ship torpedoed, bombed, shelled or mined out from under them—some of them two. Some became prisoners of the Japanese for the duration of the war, working on the infamous River Kwai Bridge. Many spent time on lifeboats or flimsy rafts under harsh conditions; one—Donald Zubrod—endured 42 days in a lifeboat with several others before their eventual rescue, close to death.
American merchant mariners suffered a casualty rate that was a close second to the Marine Corps during the war.

About the Author(s)

A former merchant seaman, Michael Gillen (Ph.D., Public History, New York University) was later a maritime labor reporter, an historic site curator and a program director and professor of Asian history at Pace University in New York. He also served as director of the project that preserved the Liberty Ship John W. Brown as an operational World War II ship museum in Baltimore. He lives in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Gillen
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 216
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, glossary, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9467-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1887-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface: The Ship 1
1  William J. “Bill” Bailey: “I just couldn’t take it any longer” 7
2  Howard Bethell: “No longer bums, they were heroes” 11
3  Daniel J. Bradley: “I’ve been on borrowed time” 25
4  Rexford Dickey: “He died from a broken heart” 32
5  Stanley E. Gorski: The Minefields of Manila Bay 36
6  Jack A. Holt: “We all piled out on deck” 43
7  Paul J. Jarvis: “Okinawa was absolute hell” 50
8  Eric H. Johanson: “We were scared to death” 60
9  Ruel N. Lawrence: “The ship pulled me down” 62
10  John M. Le Cato: “Norluna, you’re supposed to be sunk!” 70
11  Edward A. MacMichael: One Step Ahead of the Japs 84
12  Edward C. March: Torpedoes and Molasses Don’t Mix 91
13  John S. “Jack” McCusker: “Did you ever hear a ship die?” 102
14  Harry A. Morgan: Walnuts and Bauxite for the War 114
15  Dennis A. Roland: A Prisoner of the Japanese 120
16  William J. Shearer: “She was there, and all of a sudden it wasn’t” 135
17  Henrik E. “Hank” Sievers: Cargo for Pearl and Nawiliwili 139
18  Robert B. Smolen: “Captain, they’re gonna ­machine-gun us!” 142
19  John H. Tiencken: “I hated to see her lost” 147
20  Donald E. Zubrod: 42 Days in a Lifeboat 161
Appendix A: Glossary 171
Appendix B: The Crew of a Typical Liberty (Dry Cargo) Ship During World War II 175
Chapter Notes 177
Bibliography 195
Index 197

Book Reviews & Awards

• “The transcriptions are gripping in their details of the perils faced by mariners…an enjoyable read”—Military Review

• “An invaluable work”—H-Net Reviews

• “Gillen deserves a large amount of praise for his skill as an interviewer”—The Northern Mariner