We honor all who served and made the ultimate sacrifice, but let’s never forget our merchant mariners.
California…December 1941: Submarine Sinks U.S. Ship; Fires on Rescue Boats
I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the pipeline oil spill in Santa Barbara.
That’s where I’m headed tomorrow by Amtrak train to meet my son/DIL for a few days of camping and hiking along the California coast while my tugboat man tows an eight-hundred-foot barge across the high seas.
Did you know that all tugboats (and I’m sure other vessels) have an Oil Spill Response Plan?
That’s part of hub’s job, to respond to oil spills and actively contain them. He’s nowhere near Santa Barbara, so he’s not part of that cleanup, but he’s been involved in cleaning other spills.
Our United States Merchant Marine had the highest casualty rate during World War II, yet received no GI benefits…
The U.S. Merchant Marine has rarely received its due recognition in helping the Allies win World War II, although mariners were the first to go, last to return and suffered the highest casualty rate of any group that served.
One in twenty-six mariners was killed in World War II; by comparison, one in 34 Marines was killed.
The first American victim of Axis aggression was not at Pearl Harbor, but a Merchant Marine ship two years earlier.
By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, 243 mariners had already died from Axis attacks on the ships that shuttled materiel to U.S. allies already at war.
The Merchant Marine suffered its own Pearl Harbor at the Italian port of Bari, Dec. 2, 1943, when a German air attack sank 17 Allied merchant ships with a loss of more than 1,000 lives. The attack released a cargo of 100 tons of mustard gas bombs.
The conflict claimed 8,300 mariner lives at sea and wounded 12,000. At least 1,100 of those wounded succumbed to their injuries.
One in eight mariners experienced the loss of his ship, and more than 1,500 Merchant Marine ships were sunk during the war.
In 1942, on average, 33 Allied ships went down every week.
Until the middle of 1942, German submarines were sinking merchant ships faster than the Allies could build them.
Many of the crews who perished in these sinkings were blown to death or incinerated. Thirty-one ships simply vanished without a trace.
These casualties were kept secret to avoid providing the enemy with information and to keep supplies flowing to soldiers. A soldier at the front required 15 tons of supplies. Most of those supplies moved on ships.
Who were these 250,000 seamen who kept these supplies moving?
The volunteers ranged in age from 16 to 78. Many, like Tom Crosbie of Saybrook Township, dropped out of high school to serve their nation. They were often rejected from other branches of service because of a physical defect – one eye, heart disease, a missing limb.
It was the only racially integrated service during the war.
The end of the war was not the end of their service; 54 ships, including one on which Tom Crosbie was serving, hit mines after Japan and Germany surrendered. President Roosevelt, upon signing the GI Bill in June 1944, suggested “similar opportunities” would be provided to mariners.
That hope died when Roosevelt passed the following spring.
Mariners were denied everything from unemployment to medical care for disabilities. It took years of court battles for the mariners to finally receive partial veteran status in 1988, too late for many of those who had served.
They continue to seek full, official recognition for themselves and their spouses.