Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Man the Victory Fleet" A Response of a WWII Merchant Marine Hero.

I received an interesting reply from my previous posting, "A Day in the Life of a Merchant Marine."  Apparently, my tag sent a flag to Google Alerts and  another fellow Merchant Marine who also served in the precarious seas during WWII, opened up my blog and took the time to send me a nice comment. With his permission, I am re-posting his letter to me here:  

Since I was a Merchant Mariner during WW2, I subscribe to Google 
Alerts-US Merchant Marine. Today it referenced your story about your 
father"s experience during the sinking of his ship.
I also served as a fireman-water-tender on the SS Pan Georgia during 
WW2. It is unfortunate that so many veterans did not discuss their 
experiences during WW2. The fireman-water-tender position was the most 
demanding in the engine room. The crew. on a merchant ship engine room 
four hour watch, consisted only of an engineer, a fireman-water-tender 
and an oiler. The fireman was responsible for the operation of two 
boilers. He worked in an environment that was at least 100F, on 
slippery oily deck plates and air polluted with low grade fuel oil 
fumes. As required by the speed of the ship, he adjusted the fuel-oil 
flow rate, controlled the water level in the boiler and air flow-rate 
to the boiler furnace box. He also cleaned the burner nozzles at least 
once a watch. The job was especially difficult when the ship was 
maneuvering and steam demands to the turbine varied rapidly
Your description of his escape from the engine-room was good but not 
accurate. There were no stairs. There was a relatively steep ladder 
which was difficult to climb under the best conditions. With the ship 
listing and others trying to escape it could be a very hazardous climb.
It is a shame that your father didn't give you first hand information 
on the escape and experience on the life boat.
Hope I was helpful,
Walter Schwartz

Use to the same followers who comment regularly either here or on Facebook, my excitement level ramped up when this came across my inbox. As a blogger, its good to know my attempt at writing into cyberspace really works! Then it dawned on me...how old is this gentleman and how "techy" is he to be using the internet and following blogs?  Wow...so cool!  

My sister (the genealogy expert) researched my father's time in the service several years ago. I quickly called her, sharing my response and asked her to pull her research, as wanting to respond with more info to Mr. Schwartz.  Finding  almost all of our father's service record and ships, there remains  a significant gap in time,which puzzles us. It's right smack-dab in the middle of the war. We're speculating this might just be the time my dad's ship sank and his rescue and recovery took place.  That actual event was verified by my dad's sister and brother, who also never discussed it in front of my mother or any family gathering.  My uncle told my Sis that among other "cargo" transported on his ship, gold from Saudi Arabia, possibly to protect it from enemy hands or who knows, found its way on one of his ships. (Where were they taking it?)  We know my dad spent a lot of time in Middle East ports as well as the South Pacific Theater.  Occasionally, while watching travel or National Geographic shows with my dad, (which we did a lot),  he would mention strange lands he had been to, like New Guinea and Ceylon.   (I wonder now what memories, what adventures, took place there?). 

My dad is the hunky guy on the right in the white T-shirt. 

After e-mailing Mr.Schwartz back, he kindly reciprocated again and shared with me a detailed diary of his service record.  Here is a portion detailing his job and one particular rough voyage. 

October 2, Boston to LeHavre to New York on the Liberty Ship SS Kemp P.Battle. The return from Lehavre to New York on the SS Kemp Battle was probably weather wise the worst experience of my short career. five hundred of General Patton's troops were brought aboard for return to the States. Although we were scheduled to sail the next morning, all ships were suddenly ordered out of LeHavre. My rating suddenly changed from maintenance engineer to oiler. The storm was so intense that we were driven fifty miles northwest of the English Channel. A number of ships ran aground. Since we were not carrying cargo or ballast, the ship rode high, was unstable and difficult to maneuver. To provide ballast, the two aft cargo holds were partially filled with sea water as a ballast to improve the maneuverability. Since the sloshing of the water in the holds caused an unusual and unstable rocking sensation, the holds were pumped dry. Because the large reciprocating engines of the liberty ships were manually oiled, the oiler's job was especially demanding under normal conditions. The oiling can would have to be raised and lowered in synchronization with the movement of the cranks or the can would be locked out of the oiler's hand. With the ship gyrating so wildly, oiling was especially demanding. 

Under the storm condition, when the ship went into a trough, the propeller would be uncovered. With no water resistance, the engine would accelerate rapidly. Between oiling, the oiler would alternate with the engineer on watch to operate a large butterfly valve to reduce steam to the engine when the prop came out of the water. A normal ten-day trip across the Atlantic took us thirty hectic days.

For more info check out these sites: http://www.dvrbs.com/monuments/camden/Camden%2cNJ-WW2-merchant-marine-memorial.htm

Very much of interest to me, I now imagined more what my dad's actual job entailed, for he worked as an oiler and a fireman as well,  in the "engine room" of his Merchant Marine vessels. 

So, I asked Mr. Schwartz for his picture.  He told me I could get it from his Facebook page! I just have to share this with you all. Love this!  Looks great for 89, wouldn't you say? 


Work and Education


  • Civil Engineering · New York, New York


Favorite QuotationYou are never too old!

Basic Information

About WalterI'm 89 year young and I feel like I am 39 at the very oldest. My body has been telling me different, so we are arguing with each other. I'll let you know who wins the argument.
So, thank you Mr.Walter Schwartz, for your candid biography and information sharing across the WWW!  More importantly, I thank you for your service to our country and keeping your memories alive by documenting and sharing.  Have a great 4th of July and God Bless you, 
Coleene VanTilburg