tv World War II Merchant Marines CSPAN November 22, 2021 9:59am-10:32am EST
archives. and our occasional series "talking with" features extensive conversations with historians. many programs are also available as podcasts. now on "american history tv" the marines for world war two. >> thank you, thank all of you that have taken the time to be with us today. and by the way i want to spend a very special thanks to holly who is the executive director of the friends of the world war two memorial. thank you for inviting me to participate in this experience. more over, i stand before you
today representing the veterans of world war two. i'm here to honor those that are living and those that have died that represent a glorious and heroic contribution to the efforts and the ultimate success of our country's participation of that great war. on december 7th, we were, as a fashion, 130 million people versus the 325 million plus. and we were drawn into world war two after an attack by the japanese, december pth. several days after that brutal attack, germany and it's allies also declared war on us.
and this begins our story. and we have labelled this the greatest generation. by wars end, nearly four years later, we had the fighting force of 16 million men and women of this population. and there is 440,000 of us who died and an untold number came home wounded. in body and in spirit. in december of 1941, i was 15 years of age. by the time 1944 came around, i was close to 15 years of age. and i was at that time making the decision as did many others in my location about being part of the military service.
first i chose the navy. i forged a birth certificate, i took the physical, i was ready to depart, and police came to my house. it didn't go over well with my parents. so i followed up by enlisting in the u.s. maritime service. u.s. merchant marines. two separate bodies, same purpose. the response is usually who are the mercenaries and what is the u.s. maritime service and what did they do in world war two? they have been in existence since the revolutionary war. world war two was the only war where the merchant marines were allocated through government decision to the all dominant
purpose of supporting the army and the navy. world war two is the soul example of the history where the merchant marine was put under navel discipline. prohibiting the ship's captain and the crew from surrendering their vessel to the enemy. in 1936 president franklin roosevelt passed the merchant marine act that identified the need for cargo ships, tankers, and through transports. together with the appreciate means to recruit, train, and manage the merchant marines as he wanted it to be. and as an ajunket marine.
it would exist today under the department of transportation. unlike wartime, we were in the direction of the u.s. coast guard and the united states navy. they opened the new york kings point academy. one of the most revered educational centers, and it is the same as the naval academy or west point. you will find unique things about it that exist today. for basic training for the nonofficers, they opened training centers in florida. they also had training schools for radio offices and the
training the training that i remember the most it hoffman island, new york. they also intended to expand a and they were going to build 1500 new ships. we were in the war, but the war was elsewhere as you will see. and they were including men 18 years and up in that period of full-time when that service was established. but they needed more and more men, as you can see, to command the ships, so they dropped the anyone to 16 years. 16-year-old men. something wrong with that statement. that if you're 16 years old you're a man. but we were all volunteers. most of us didn't seek a career. 250,000 of us recruited. less than 1800 of us are still
alive. now, if you say that, it rolls easily, but it's my hope that with god's direction, i speak for those 248,200 lives that are no longer alive. less than 1800 still alive out of 250,000. in 1952 there was instructs addressed to the merchant marine captains and armed guard gunnery. they manned it with guns and they had specially trained people in the navy, look it up, revered people, the onguard and the officers. these orders remove what had been, up to this point, a policy of defensive posture. meaning you didn't fire unless you were fired upon.
they changed that. the gunnery orders read as follows. there is no situation where either the captain nor armed guard commander should delay opening fire on an enemy. in that same year, the fleet admiral sent a message to all of the u.s. naval units that henceforth naval discipline and control were to be exercised against any merchant marine crew or crewman. in short, like all of the other services, merchant mariners were subject to court marshall and penalties for not following the directive of the u.s. navy. sometimes you will hear how that was corrupted. let's hear from some of the
hurdles. the u.s. fought on five, count them, that is all we have, five continents. we were at war, all of the wars were fought elsewhere. we were manufacturing goods to taking to the major combat areas and we served all of these areas. world war two, however, a combination of the industrial revolution. the japanese made a severe mistake, they left our oil fields in the hawaiian islands, they didn't think about that. they didn't get the biggest part of our navy, and third they never counted on a country that would become so militarized, so rapidly, and do the things that we were about to do. now libellerty ships, we decided to create a new kind of ship. they were called liberty ships,
only two of them still around today, but they were great vehicles. they had tons and tons of area. they could only go 8 or 9 miles per hour on the water with a full load. we built 3,000 vessels totally. and among them was this great ship. as you think about it, if you built that many, they were building one day less than maybe six a week. and and nothing is without fault. things happen because we don't plan them all. we lost 200 of those liberty ships. and there was many other types of ships. there was tankers and there was transportation ships for troops that they took crews to the position. so they converted cargo ships to be troop ships. so now we're ready to go.
all destinations. now let me define for you what all destinations are and what we did. these are the historical records. we made, and delivered, 15 million tons of supplies, food, ammunition, fuel. 15 million tons to great britain and europe. another 13 million that we delivered to the pacific. another eight million to the mediterranean. and we delivered to russia. and when the war ended, the adds are at them because of the cold war. plus all of these things that we delivered we delivered seven million military personnel to combat staging areas, and returned them after the war
because president truman, then president, asked us to do so. we did what we were asked to do and here is one of the saddest statistics you will ever read. talking about my brother. we had the highest casualty rate of any branch. one out of every 26 of us died. thousands more came home physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives. those serving on tankers, which i was one, and served in an engine room, of which i was one, had a particular story. if you could sink a tanker, a tankership, but you sank the ability for other tanks to move diesel, to move anything that needed fuel, aircraft, jeeps, tanks, whatever. we needed that fuel.
so if the enemy could sink one of those -- now 663 of us were killed. if you're a merchant marine through a loophole, it did not go on. we were getting a dollar a day. so someone spent three years in a prison camp and when he got a check for slightly under $1100 to pay you for nearly three years of your life's service. through an oversight we were also excluded from the gi bill that came out in the early part of the war. and we were -- it was unfortunate. they tried to resurface it, but what made america great is the
veterans came home and they had enough money to get a house, education, pay for medical bills, and the gi bill made it very easy. your parents, grandparents, or their parents might have been able to accept that. we didn't get that. we got it later as you will see. we came home with common life time ailments. i'm an example. if you look at me and hear me, you might not think i'm 93 years old. i was 15 when i went in. i have malaria. i informs the pacific islands and they treated me, but it resurfaced after the war. so i had to be treated for malaria at my own expense and i can no longer do blood. that stays in my system. i had ulcers at 15 years of age.
i came home with ulcers. i was not diagnosed and sent to a hospital run by the government, i paid for that. and at the age of 62 a renowned physician determined i didn't have ulcers all of the time, it was something that is called at hp laurie, an infection in my system, and at 62 they cured it. and then we had something calls asbestosis because i worked in the engine room.
and a high percentage of veterans faced. and we don't want to talk about it. it is something called post-traumatic stress. that's not it's real name. it's post-traumatic stress disorder. and over one million hospital beds were filled after the war with people that had that and no one wanted to admit they had it because of the word disorder and it come contaminate employment later and your social prestige. and we paid taxes on on everything we earned. i'm not crying in pain, i don't dislike anybody. i don't dislike my government. they make mistakes, we pay for it. 43 years after the war, we passed veteran rights, the gi
bill in 1988 and 43 years later. by then if you had not made enough to take care of yourself you were in real trouble in this country. 75 years they're giving us a great honor. they issued upon us, the congressional gold medal for our efforts. yet to be received. in about five days i'm going to be speaking to the convention of the united states merchant marine service and armed guard. i will be speaking at that convention and they will be receiving a copy of what it looks like and some time soon there after we will receive that gold medal. the early years of letter
writing, i can't go through my life, i can't speak for others saying it was wrong, i didn't get this or that, so i can't succeed. i have done very well in my life. if you know about me or looked me up on you tube, dave yoho you will see that i have done very well in my life. but i did pen part of that better that went to congress. here is where i said do you, can you will youer understand that we gave up our youth when we held up our hands and swore to do what we were asked to do. and at the bottom of this, i wrote about our letters that continued to come in. i said i trust these epithets i trust will not offend you. hell no, we won't go away. if you have ever seen the movie
"saving private ryan" you will know what i'm talking about. there is a cemetery, i should say, in europe, in france. and there is an old man kneeling before a cross searching for a name. he is supposedly the private ryan of today that survived all of those years. and he says this, what we did counts. what i did, what i was asked to do, was i worthy? can you tell me? i was, and yet the unspoken words, if you have friend that's are veterans, they don't want to talk about it. get it out of the way and move on. whatever was wrong was wrong. i want to take you through what we call the second pearl harbor.
it happened on december 2nd. it was a beautiful, beautiful little country spot today. but in 1943 it was a harbor where ships brought in tools and toys and what not. and because it was 43 and the war would go on for almost two more years. but december of 1963 there was a ship in that harbor that was carrying explosives that were unnamed at the time, but general bernard montgomery, he recquitioned. and one of these ships has
mustard gas bombs. general montgomery asked these be made and shipped to him in case the germans would take advantage of us. 100 tons of mustard gas. about 330 in the afternoon, look at my hands, normally when you see ships line up to unload, they normally line up right next to the dock. they docked this way, there was 40 ships in that par harbor. and when they come in, they drop a bomb on the ss john harvey that exploded. it didn't explode, it
decentigrated. at the end of the day 1,000 military including allies and per kmants were killed on that first day. and it was like a bomb and it is orange in color and it is must toward gas. now there was a total of 17 allied ships that were sunk that around at 3:00 p.m. nothing could be recovered on them, and why haven't you heard about it? the wisdom of our government said it's not a good thing for people to know, their thought was probably right. but i do tell you it happened and you can find out about it today, look it up. barry, december 1943, we call it the invasion, and we call it second pearl harbor. and i will leave you with one
more thought before guy. i want to tell you about something called mermen. if you have the opportunity to do so, please visit the world war ii memorial. it's a sacred place for my friends and also for you. it holds our history. on one side of the area it lists all of great battle fronts, and you will see the one that says mermansk. it is very close to the sea and if you look at that, here is russia, here is the sea, and over here. directly over here, norway. it was home to control by the zer mans at the time. and they occupied the country and they housed in the harbor there some of the great ships. one of them is called the
turnpicks. after the war started, we recognized the need to ship goods there and they put together the largest convoy in american history. tell me how many of your schools. i'm going to tell you what i know now. no condemnation, but fact. they had a billion dollars worth of material. now that is about $5 million. but bound for mermansk. 35 merchant ships, 24 military ships including cruisers and escorts and destroyers. air support, submarines, and cargo containing 300 aircraft.
600 tanks, 4,000 trucks, 1,000 jeeps, and 150 tons of general cargo. what happened was the sea is a treacherous place to be to begin with. the german fleet was in oslo. they have a water temperature of 45 degrees below zero. if you hit that water you only have a few minutes before hyperthermia takes you. the ships are coated with ice. and the men are throughout with
hatchets chopping the ice. there is an admiral, and that admiral was in charge of that part of the war faze. and we were in russian water with american ships, but he was in charge and on the belief thatship i mentioned which was the largest and most effective battleship in the world. it was housed there, and the belief that would come out and attack ships, the admiral ordered all of that support away from the convoy. so in a matter of hours, in five days from the port where they were sailing to, this convoy was con temperatured. 34 ships, 11, count them, 11 ships get through. the rest are sunk.
young sailors in the water. you can make it four or five minutes. the ships can't stop and pick you up. 120 u.s. merchant men and allies died. most killed immediately when they hit the water. those that survived came home crippled, maimed, and emotionally scarred for life. it is one of the sad etc. and most shameful ep codes of the war. now when that war ended, i was in the pacific ocean. i was on a ship that was destined to okinawa. i was on a fleet oiler. when that war ended, august
15th, 1947, four days later i became 17. people ask me what it was like to be a kid? we weren't kids. we were kids when we went in, but the day you o go in and the day you go on duty, insta maturity because if you're not a man, you don't make it, you can't get to it. and i often weep as i think of these young men. my brothers, my friends, my associates. veterans that hit that water and knew they were going to die. they weren't going to make it. this is why we show revere, this great country of ours. it is a great country. no matter what people do to destroy it or what they say about it, it's still the best country in the world. it's natural and normal to make mistakes. now i hope that you carry with you something from my message.
i bear no ill feelings for what was done to us in that service, they did drive to make reprimand. and hopefully it sits well with those still alive. i will be speaking five days from now. in maryland, to the american merchant marine convention. the armed guard will be there as will the u.s. maritime service. they are going to honor us with the dedication of the medal that we're about to receive. and a is a louis my brothers, my sisters in arms. i say if you are moved in any way by what i told you, i ask you to find an american merchant marine. they are alive, we keep dieing on them and there is not enough
members left. as i wrap this up i will say my final words are this. when you are with others will you tell them about us? will you ask them to visit the world war ii memorial in washington dc. tune in to find out what goes on in our lives, and say to whoever you're talking to, that we gave up our yesterdays for their tomorrows. god bless the united states of america, and god bless you for tuning in today. weekends on c-span 2 are an
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