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Remembering Merchant Marines

April 23, 2008
The Advertiser-Tribune
Why preserve an old World War II liberty ship?

Why preserve the memory of the U.S. Merchant Marines?

Why remember 210,000 civilians? Especially nearly 9,000 of them who were killed serving the United States.

These civilians endured a casualty rate higher than any military entity; yes, one in 26 of these civilians were killed by enemy action. The U.S. Merchant Marines participated in every invasion the allies carried out during World War II.

Every soldier or marine who landed on foreign soil was supplied with a ton of material immediately after landing, not months later. The civilians in these countries were supplied with food and relief supplies. Why should anyone care?

I am 82 years of age and one of the youngest World War II Merchant Marines still surviving. Having been silent for 62 or more years, I feel I must speak up before I go. For some reason, we were painted as less-than-desirable persons: draft dodgers, drunks, the scum of prisons, money grubbers, saboteurs and so on. This seemed to sell newspapers for Hearst, Winchell, Pegler and their ilk. As to draft dodgers, as an example, I was 15 1/2, with one good eye. I sailed with men who were too old for military service, many physically unacceptable for military service. I was trained to fire boilers, fire a 20mm machine gun by men too old for the draft. There was no draft for the Merchant Marines; we all were volunteers.

The nation built 2,610 liberty ships. For a 1 1/2 years, the German U-boats sunk them faster than we could build them — they and their crews were expendable. Why did we go to sea? There was a war to win.

There are two liberty ships kept as memorials. These are the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed in San Francisco, and the SS John W. Brown, berthed in Baltimore. These are maintained by mostly volunteers, but because of age, they need some expensive dry dock work with very little money — help!

Please do not let us be forgotten. Please send a donation to:

SS Jeremiah O’Brien

Drydock Fund

Pier 23 - The Embarcadero

San Francisco, CA 94111

The Jeremiah O’Brien National Liberty Ship Memorial is a 601(c) (3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible. Thank you for your generous support.

John S. Campbell

Kerryville, Texas

Note: John Campbell was born and raised in Tiffin and has family and friends here still. He visits his brother, who lives at Autumnwood, several times a year. I am well aware this letter is longer than usual but it is a fact of history of which very few people are aware. I was raised very near South Portland, Maine, where many of these ships were built, and personally knew many people who came from all over New England to work in the shipyards. I also saw the debris of many of the ships sunk by the U-boats on our beach.

Pat Lutz




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