It’s been over two years since I blogged about my grandfather’s merchant marine history and the stories as his sons knew it. Mostly I’ve been waiting until I was able to make it to San Francisco to be able to view some records for the ships that he was stationed on. Today I made that trip! Today begins the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say.
Now the stories heard and retold will have some basis of truth proven or disproven. And some of the stories remembered are grandpa stretching the truth – he was known to be a good story teller!
Before I get to that… where is this information coming from? The short answer – the National Archives and Records Administration – specifically records found at the National Archives at San Francisco, CA which has the original log books for the ships we know my grandfather to be stationed aboard and the training records from the Merchant Marine training center. A couple years ago the researchers at the National Archives sent me grandpa’s training service record. Today I made the trip to view the original log books of his three known ships:
It is suspected that he was on another ship; but, without knowing the name, to find proof about this would require reading every ship’s log books. To say the least, that’d be difficult.
So, what have I found?
Starting with his training records… It appears that he started enrolling in the Merchant Marines on March 18, 1944 which took a couple weeks to complete. Apparently, this required his current employer to release him from their employment which they did.
One thing family researchers need to be aware of is that we might find information that could be embarrassing or surprising. Other than grandpa being good at telling tall tales, I didn’t find anything negative in my research. I did, however, find some interesting facts that were unknown to me:
- He didn’t graduate from high school; he completed two years.
- He had a “color vision defect.”
- Smoked about 15 cigarettes a day.
He was assigned to the U.S. Maritime Service Training School for Apprentice Seaman training in Avalon, CA about April 5, 1944. Then, on May 11, 1944 he was transferred to the US Maritime Graduate Station in San Francisco, CA as a Stewards Mate 2nd Class. (This is interesting since his background was in construction he was made a steward!) He was then transferred to his first duty on May 15, 1944 to the MV White Shoals (a sea-going tug).
Each ship was required to keep a log book.
Official Logbooks (which should not be confused with narrative-account logs) were required for all foreign voyages mandated by legislation enacted in 1872, and were occasionally filed for coastal voyages when a birth or death occurred during the voyage. These logbooks were submitted to the newly-created Office of Shipping Commissioners.
Much of the rest of the following information comes from these log books or war diaries that I’ve found on www.fold3.com.
MV White Shoals
It didn’t take long; but grandpa went to sea pretty quickly. He was stationed aboard the sea going tug MV White Shoals as a messman (cook) on the voyage from San Francisco between May 18 and August 8, 1944.
The White Shoals was part of a three-ship convoy that left the area on 18 May 1944 as noted in Northern California Western Sea Frontier war diary. The other two ships were another tug and the USS Vega (AK-17).
This was also recorded in Vega’s war diary of May 18, 1944 which indicates that the White Shoals was towing the USS Flint.
There is no indication of what the USS Flint actually is. I expect it was the name of a barge or floating drydock. [EDIT: After further research, I found the USS Alkes’ war diary indicates the Flint was a concrete barge.] It makes no sense for them to be towing a ship that could make its own way. The convoy arrived in Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands on June 16, 1944.
While at Eniwetok, the tug went through at least one general alarm due to enemy aircraft in the area. This occurred July 4. At some point, they travelled to Kwajalein.
Commander Service Squadron Ten’s war diary has the Shoals towing a barge YF-786 departing Kwajalein on July 10 and headed for Eniwetok Atoll with an ETA of July 13. They actually arrived July 15th.
From there the Shoals headed to Honolulu and arrived there on July 30th. Based upon the ship’s log book – they returned to San Francisco on August 8, 1944.
The White Shoals took part in a larger convoy starting August 21st pulling parts of the floating drydock. This corresponds to our family’s understanding of what grandpa did. However… based upon the CINCPAC’s war diary, the White Shoals was still enroute to the Manus Islands on August 31 and, according to the Manus Island Admiralty’s war diary, they didn’t arrive until October 4th. Another fact is that a letter written to him in August 1944 from my grandmother was returned due to him not being aboard.
SS Guatemala Victory
At this point I seriously doubt grandpa was on the White Shoals while it was towing the dry dock. His name is on the roster of the SS Guatemala Victory starting on September 6th. On October 8, grandpa’s ship was part of a convoy designated as Task Unit 16.8.12 with three escorts (the escort commander was on the USS Sederstrom DE-31) and eleven ships being escorted. They arrived at Eniwetok Islands on October 17.
On October 19 they started out as Task Unit 16.14.2. This time they were headed to Ulithi Island. They were escorted by three destroyer escorts. The convoy commander was on grandpa’s ship.
This ship, it seems, decided to put grandpa’s skills to work. Instead of keeping him on as a steward, they made him the ship’s carpenter! This means that he likely had something to do with the necessary repairs of his ship when the LCT-999 put a small hole into the side of the Guatemala Victory when they were coming alongside sometime in November.
Another close call in November of 1944 occurred when a Japanese midget submarine sunk the USS Mississinewa (an oiler) while in the Ulithi harbor – the SAME harbor that the Guatemala Victory was in.
There are a lot of holes in the dates that I have for this ship. There isn’t much available, that I’ve found, on the specifics of where this ship went or what it carried while in the western Pacific Ocean.
This voyage ended on December 11, 1944. Unfortunately, I have no indication what grandpa might have been doing or where he may have gone for several months. My next piece of official paperwork trail starts May 4, 1945 on the SS. Bernardo Higgins. However, I also have a letter written from grandpa to grandma in January 1945 that indicates he was still on the Guatemala Victory. Guess I need to contact the people at the NARA again.
SS Bernardo O’Higgins
This ship’s master was a bit more verbose (or had a lot more things happening) so he had two volumes of logs: Volume 1 and Volume 2. Unfortunately, I have a difficult time finding anything concerning the Bernardo O’Higgins in the war diaries.
This voyage started on May 4, 1945 and Cliff Collins was placed as a carpenter on this ship as well.
This next story is interesting in that it is the basis of one of grandpa’s stories which isn’t quite the truth! Three weeks after departing San Francisco (on June 15, 1945 at 1330) grandpa “got a steel splinter in his eye while drilling a hole in a steel deck with an electric drill.” It didn’t get better by the next day but nothing could be seen in his eye. On June 18th he was sent ashore at Tacloban, Leyte, Philippine Islands where a splinter was removed and the eye treated. He was seen again in Manila on June 24, June 30, and July 5 at the 80th General Hospital. His vision had become impaired by a scar encroaching on his pupil. A medical report, however, stated his vision was improving satisfactorily. What we all thought was that his ship hit a mine and that’s how the metal got into his eye. That’s not how I read the log however 😊.
Another story we heard was that he was on a ship who was hit by another ship which sliced off the bow of this ship that he was on! Here’s the story in the log [items in bracket are my comments]…
9/5/45 – 1134 While vessel was at anchor off San Francisco due to intense fog she was rammed by the S.S. Burbank Victory. The ship’s bell of the S.S. Bernardo O’Higgins was being rung continually due to the condition of the weather. The ramming vessel hit this vessel along the starboard side causing #1 life raft to be torn from rack, #1 lifeboat torn off, #2 life boat severely punctured, bulwark & hull plating completely torn from after end of #1 hatch extending forward to carpenter’s shop [this was grandpa’s shop] and from main deck to tween[?] deck level. The colliding vessel with Captain Lauraas[?] as master was traveling at an excessive speed under the prevailing conditions of the weather giving her no chance to stop to avoid an accident within the limited range of visibility. Immediately after the collision bilges were sounded and found to be dry, whereupon the master of this vessel deemed the vessel to be safe but not seaworthy.
Although scary I’m sure – not the doom and gloom from my grandfather’s story!
So what’s next? Maybe I’ll put all of this together and send it in to get grandpa a DD-214 which means he’d be eligible to receive a military marker for his service in the merchant marines! Heh – dealing with the Department of Defense, Coast Guard and the Veteran’s Administration – won’t that be fun!