Posted on April 20, 2016 by Anne Corvelle
Imagine being part of the war effort during World War II, manning a ship, sailing across the oceans with much-needed fuel on board. Above your tanker are Japanese fighters, even kamikaze planes, so the firing begins, but the gunner is killed and you have to take over. You soon end up on the other side of the world, on a ship transporting ground troops, which is approached by a German U-boat, gets torpedoed and begins to sink… You get into a lifeboat and are rescued by the US Navy. However, when the war is over you receive no recognition, benefits, nor veteran status. Such was the life of the US Merchant Mariners (USMM) during and after World War II.
While not an actual branch of military service, no military efforts could be successful without the work of the USMM to transport troops and supplies overseas. As the oldest of all branches of service, the USMM was established on June 12, 1775, in Machias, Maine. A group of fed up colonists commandeered a merchant ship, armed it and waged war against the British in the first naval engagement of the American Revolution. The USMM has been involved in every military conflict since.
Before we go any further, it is important to note the correct terminology – members of the United States Merchant Marines are called Merchant Mariners or Mariners, but NEVER Marines. Marines fight and Mariners supply the equipment to accomplish a common goal. The way the USMM works is by moving goods from shore to shore, both foreign and domestic. In order to prepare for WWII, Merchant Mariners had to endure basic training and were trained in gunnery, in case something happened to the Naval Armed Guard assigned to protect the ship. Today, the Merchant Marine Academy, in Kingspoint, NY, is federally run, like West Point and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.
The number of Merchant Mariners increased from 55,000 to 250,000 men serving throughout WWII, mostly due to those answering the call by the government to serve and support the war effort. It is said that those who wanted to fight but were rejected for military service would often be directed to the USMM because the need was so great that they would take any warm body wanting to sign up. Some young men who were too young to enter military service and wanted to help with the war efforts were able to work out a way to join the USMM. Along with the surge of ships moving to supply the armed forces overseas came casualties suffered at the hands of the enemy. 1 in 26, or approximately 9,000 Mariners lost their lives during WWII, this was a higher casualty rate than any of the US armed forces.
During WWII, because the U.S. military had very few cargo vessels, all U.S flagged steam ships were mandated to transport troops, armaments, fuel and supplies to both the European and Pacific theaters. New ships, known as Liberty Ships, were built as quickly as possible, with the intent of building them faster than the Germans could sink them. The typical time to build one ship was about six weeks, but they ramped up production during the war. One Liberty ship was built in just over four days as the result of a one-time event to raise money via war bonds! As for the reason they needed to be built so quickly, it is a little-known fact that that many ships were sunk by the Germans less than one mile from the East Coast of the United States – this information was suppressed from the news so as not to create panic.
This is where some ominous music would be cued, followed by …TO BE CONTINUED
Our four funeral homes in Lancaster County makes it easy and convenient to make arrangements and host services close to home.