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Experiencing War: They Also Served: Coast Guard and Merchant Marine (Stories from the Veterans History Project, Library of Congress)

The casualty rates during World War II were dramatically higher for the men who served on Merchant Marine ships than in any formal branch of the military. Working sometimes without escort and with only modest fire power aboard, the ships of the Merchant Marine sailed through mine fields and dodged submarines and bombers to deliver invaluable cargo everywhere from Arctic Russia to the Persian Gulf. For over 60 years, these brave men were denied formal military recognition.

Featured Story: William S. Chambers
William S. Chambers - link to story
“I remember that I had gotten my first wristwatch when I graduated from high school. Both my wristwatch and my original seaman's certificate and other papers went down with the SS Steel Worker on June the 3rd, 1942. (Audio Interview, 11:51)

William Chambers was en route to Hawaii on a cargo ship on December 7, 1941, when his captain announced news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chambers had been in effect training for war for two years. At 18, he entered the Pennsylvania State Nautical School in October 1939, shortly after WWII broke out in Europe, and the school had its students learn the ropes on different vessels of the U.S. Navy. During the war, Chambers made many dangerous voyages, none worse than a 1942 trip to the Soviet Union on which he lost three ships to torpedoes or mines. At war’s end, he was still at sea, carrying supplies for the invasion of Japan which were never needed.

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William S. Chambers' story
Experience more stories of the Merchant Marine more stories
“As a boy I wanted to travel, and this gave me an opportunity to do that and serve my country at the same time.” -- Richard Newman
James Alvin Jolly - link to story
“We looked back and on the engine room was this round indentation, which had been the head of a torpedo...”

James Alvin Jolly's story

Richard Lee Newman - link to story
“One ship by itself is safer if it’s undiscovered. If it’s discovered, then it’s dead...”

Richard Lee Newman's story

Charles Jesse Phillips - link to story
“I made up my mind I wasn’t going to sail the North Atlantic again because it was too rough.”

Charles Jesse Phillips' story

Donald F. Prior - link to story
“I was a sixteen-year-old lad, and I was really not used to doing hard work...”

Donald F. Prior's story

Herman Eric Rosen - link to story
“Well, I hoped. I hoped. I think that was one reason I was able to survive.”

Herman Eric Rosen's story

James Harding Stancil - link to story
“...When it was over with, I got so weak I couldn’t stand up. I was trembling all over.”

James Harding Stancil's story

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  August 20, 2009
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