Little Known Veterans of WWII

One group of veterans where little is known or at best misunderstood are those of the U. S. Merchant Marine veterans of WWII. We have heard that some of these seamen were called “draft dodgers”. Let’s examine a few facts. Some mariners were released from the army to serve in the Merchant Marine due to the country’s extreme need for experienced seamen. There was one seaman, a Harold Harper who was said to have “dodged” the draft by being torpedoed 6 times! Or how about a Nick Hoogendam who was too young for the army or the navy but spent 83 days on a life raft drinking only rainwater and eating “sushi”. Another mariner who had been in WWI and WWII had 10 ships knocked out from under him. Or how about Michael Horodysky who was classified 4F in the draft due to a bad heart but sailed the dangerous Murmansk run and took part in the North African invasion.

Other interesting mariners were the Chief Engineer of the SS Peter Kerr that was sunk in the Convoy PQ17 who had a wooden leg and Harold “Bud” Schmidt who was allowed to sail as a one-eyed 16 year-old kid. I personally knew a Gerry Osborn who was allowed to join the Merchant Marine just after he turned 16. He was sent with only two weeks training to the South Pacific where he was when he got his draft notice. He had been in several episodes one of which he barely survived a Kamikaze attack. When he finally returned to the states he reported to his draft board where he was called a “draft dodger”and was told he was going to be drafted. He told the man he would enlist in the army before ever being drafted and he did.

I heard several times about officers not knowing how to decipher navy codes. This didn’t matter. Their jobs were to deliver their cargoes any way they could and there wasn’t time enough for merchant marine officers to get that kind of training. I personally was amazed that my ship went halfway around the world and all over the South Pacific with the first mate having second mates papers, the second mate had radio mans’ papers, and the third mate had only sailed as a bos’sun on his last trip. A few of us had some Maritime training but most of the deck crew had only on-the-job training to maintain the condition of the ship. It is sad to note that of the 250,000 American seamen over 8,000 were lost at sea with many of them only having a few weeks training before being sent to sea. Few people know that those American seamen ranged in age from 15 to 76 years of age. From what I have read it is unbelievable there was many a ship with mostly untrained crews that delivered 94% of all our war materiel and supplies for our allies. Our country was blessed to have had these dedicated brave young men. As far as saying they weren’t veterans or on the front line is an insult. One out of every twenty-six seamen perished in WWII. Our merchant crews fought bravely in all of this country’s invasions but were not declared veterans by our Congress until 1988.

At the present time there is a Bill HR-23 in Congress called “Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of WWII Act of 2011” where it appears that it is being held back from being approved by Congress. This will cause many of the last 7000 veterans to die before its possible enactment. For the few months left in their lives this bill would provide a monthly cash benefit and Social Security credit for their wartime service. Be thankful for veterans like these!

-Byron Ayres

Past President of Silvergate Chapter of AMMV
2510 Cinderella Way
Lemon Grove, California 91945
E-mail address: [email protected]