Recently, an elderly gentleman, aided by a cane, sat in the seat next to me at Temple Shalom’s Torah study class.
Introducing himself as Herman Morris, he was asked by someone viewing his veteran’s labeled baseball cap, “What was your job in the Marines?”
Staring at his cap, I read, “US Merchant Marine.” With a slightly raised voice for emphasis, he said “I was a Mariner, not a Marine!” He went on to briefly explain the differences.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked. People need to know what we did in the war and what we still do today.”
“We are professionally trained to operate ships on the high seas, carrying imports and exports during peacetime and become a naval auxiliary during wartime to deliver troops and war material.”
Herman, as an 18-year-old Cadet Midshipman in the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps, was serving aboard a passenger transport, the Marine Marlin, when it arrived in Yokahama Harbor soon after the war had officially ended.
He was shocked to see that the harbor pilot who came aboard in order to maneuver the ship into the docking area was Japanese. “Last week, he was our enemy!” Herman exclaimed.
Three years earlier, another Jewish youngster who chose to serve in the Merchant Marine, on the Atlantic side, was my brother, Fred. I was 11 years old; he was 16. It was 1942, and our troops needed transport and supplies.
Building radios from scratch, and driving everyone crazy at home while he practiced the Morse code, my brother earned a high score on the Federal Short Wave Broadcasting License test.
Instead of joining his friends at play during his last summer vacation before his senior year of high school, he was welcomed into the U.S. Merchant Marine as the chief radio operator aboard the Liberty Ship John Howard Payne.
Sailing in a large convoy bringing much needed supplies to North Africa, Fred’s ship luckily was able to dodge torpedoes, unload and return safely home.
The Merchant Marine operates in both war and peace: How do you think most foreign imports come into our country? Answer: “Our Merchant Mariners bring them in.”
May 22 was National Maritime Day. Our Mariners continue to support our forces, wherever they may be.
Please honor these unsung American heroes.