Sunday, May 28, 2017

They also served, and many died: remembering the merchant mariners.


This weekend we remember the men and women whose lives were lost in defense of our nation and its allies. Among these have been many merchant mariners, whose service was essential in delivering ammunition, fuel, equipment, food, and medical supplies to our troops, and those of our allies, fighting overseas. It is estimated that, in World War II, as many as 9,300 died at sea or later succumbed to wounds inflicted when their ships were attacked by enemy submarines or aircraft, or struck mines.

The photo above is of the American Merchant Mariners' Memorial, by the sculptor Marisol. I took it while walking around Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and posted it here on November 1, 2006.

American Victory (photo above) is one of the few surviving "emergency" cargo ships from World War II. She has been preserved in my old home city, Tampa, by the American Victory Ship Mariners Memorial Museum. Her dock is at 705 Channelside Drive, near the Florida Aquarium. I visited her there several years ago. Paul Schiffman, a retired Merchant Marine master who tended bar at the Lion's Head, for many years my favorite Greenwich Village saloon, served as a mate on her maiden voyage in 1945, delivering supplies to U.S. forces in the Pacific. At a memorial gathering for Paul, who died in 2011, I learned that Mike Wholey, another Lion's Head regular, had served as a mate on American Victory's last voyage in service, delivering supplies to our troops in Vietnam.

In 1988, pursuant to a court order, merchant mariners who served during World War II were granted veteran status, allowing them to receive discharge papers and medical benefits.