tv World War II Merchant Marines CSPAN November 22, 2021 3:57pm-4:30pm EST
developed over years and our occasional series talking with, features extensive conversations with historians about their lives and work. many of our television programs are also available as podcasts. you can find them all on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. washington unfiltered. c-span in your pocket. download c-span now today. now on american history tv, dave yoho provides the history of the merchant marines during world war ii. >> thank you, and thank all of you who have taken the time to be with us today. by the way, i want to send a very special thanks to holly who is the executive director of the friends of the world war ii memorial. thank you for inviting me to
participate in this educational experience. look, moreover, i stand before you today representing the united states merchant marine. and the veterans of world war ii. i'm here to honor those who are living and those who have died, who represent a glory rows and e heroic contribution to the efforts and the ultimate success of your country's participation in that great war. on december 7th, 1941, we were as a nation 130 million people versus the 325 million-plus that we have today. and we were drawn into world war ii after an attack by the japanese. december 7th. several days after that brutal
attack, germany and its allies also declared war on us. and this begins our story. and thus the identification which we have been latest the greatest generation. by war's end, almost four years later, we had produced a fighting force of 16 million men and women out of this population, which represented 12 1/2% of our population. as an half math, 240,000 of us died and an untold number came home wounded in body and in spirit. in december of 1941, i was 13 years of age. by the time 1944 came around, i was close to 15 years of age. and i was at that time making the decision as many others in
my same classification about being part of the military service. first, i chose the united states navy. i forged a birth certificate, went down and passed the physical and was about to be indoctrinated and shipped off to training camp and the police showed up to my mother and father that i was a truant and i falsified. i followed up by enlisting in the u.s. maritime service, u.s. merchant marine. who things, two separate bodies, same purpose. now in today's parlance, the response is, who are the merchant marines and what in god's name is the u.s. maritime service and what did they do in world war ii? the merchant marine has been in existence since the revolutionary war. world war ii was the only war engaged in by the united states
whereby the merchant marine was allocated to the all-dominant purpose of supporting the army and the navy. world war ii is the sole example of our nation's history where the merchant marine was placed under naval discipline and among other regulations, prohibited the ship's captains and/or the crew from surrendering their vessel. 1936 president franklin deano roosevelt, our president at that time, passed the merchant marine act which identified the need for cargo ships, tankers, and troop transports. together with appropriate means to recruit and train and manage the merchant marine as he wanted
it to be. as an adjunct arm of our military. what followed is now our history of the merchant marine in world war ii. first thing they established was the maritime service which is under the supervision of the department of transportation. unlike wartime, we were the director direction, if that's repeating myself, of the u.s. coast guard and the united states navy. they opened in kings point, new york, kings point academy is one of the most revered educational centers and it is the same academy as the naval academy or the army west point. and so we have that training center. if you look us up, you'll find some unique things about it which exist today. for basic training for the nonofficers, they opened training centers in florida, one in california, and one on the
east coast near brooklyn, new york. they also had training schools for radio officers and the training -- some that i remember the most is hoffman island new york. they also intended to expand the merchant fleet and they were going to built 1500 new ships. we were in the war, but the war is waiting for it elsewhere, as you will see. and they were recruiting men 18 years and up in that period of time when that maritime service was established, but they needed more and more men as you will see to man these ships. and so they dropped the age to 16 years. 16 years. 16-year-old men. something wrong with that statement. it doesn't ring, 16-year-old, you're a man, but let's see what happens. we were all volunteers. most of us didn't seek a career. we saw it as a patriotic act.
250,000 of us recruited. less than 1,800 of us are still alive. now, if you say that, it is my hope that with god's direction i speak for those 248,200 lives that are no longer live and those who are still alive. less than 1,800 out of the 250,000 recruited. february 1942, the navy issued instructions and armed guard gunnery. they had specially trained people in the navy. look it up. revered people, the armed guard and their officers. these orders removed what had
been up to this point a policy of defensive posture, meaning you didn't fire unless you were fired upon. they changed that. the gunnery orders of february 1942 read as follows -- there is no situation where either the captain or armed guard commander should delay opening fire on an enemy. in that same year, fleet admiral ernest j. king sent a message to all u.s. naval units that henceforth, naval discipline and control were to be exercised against any merchant marine crew or crewmen in all theaters of war, in short, like all the other services, merchant mariners were subject to court-martial and personalities for failure to follow the directive of the u.s. navy.
sometime later, you'll hear how that was corrupted. let's see some of the hurdles our government was facing and what we were called upon to support. the u.s. fought on five, count them, five continents. that's all we have in the world. we fought on all five of the continents. we were manufacturing goods to take to these major combat areas and we, the u.s. merchant marine, served all these areas. world war ii, however, was a combination of industrial production, the japanese made a severe mistake on december 7th, they never took into consideration several things. they left our oil fields in the hawaiian islands. they never blew them up. they never thought about that. they didn't get the biggest part of our navy, and, third, they never counted on the countries that would become so militarized so rapidly and do the things that we were about to do.
now, liberty ships. we decided to create a new kind of ship and this was just prior to -- they were called liberty ships. only two of them still around today. these ships were really great vehicles. they had tons and tons of area. they could only go 8 or 9 knots on the water with a full load. we built 3,000 vessels totally and among them was this ship. if you think about that, if we built that many, they were building one a day, less than maybe six a week. i tell you this, in all truth, nothing is without fault. previous things happen because we don't plan them all. but what did happen, we lost 200 of those liberty ships and there were many other types of ships. there were tankers and transportation ships for troops,
to take crews to the position, so they converted cargo ships to be troop ships. so now we're ready to go to all destinations. let me define you what all destinations are and what we did. these are the historical records. we made and delivered 15 million tons of supplies, food, ammunition, fuel, 15 million tons, to great britain and europe. another 13 million tons we delivered to the pacific. another 8 million tons to the mediterranean and we delivered 5 million tons to our ally, russia, who was a lead ally. when the war ended, we were at odds with them because of the cold war. plus, all these things that we
delivered, we delivered 7 million military personnel to combat or staging areas and then returned them after the war because president truman asked us to do so. we did what we were asked to do and here's -- i'm talking about my brother. we had the highest causality rate of any branch of the service. 1 out of every 26 of us died. thousands more came home physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of their life. those serving on tankers, which i was one, and served in an engine room, of which i was one, had a particular story. you sank the ability for other
ships to -- tanks to move, diesels to move, anything that needed fuel, aircraft, jeeps, tanks, whatever. we needed that fuel. so if the enemy could sink one of those. 663 of us -- 663 merchant seamen were captured and held as prisoners of war. during the military, your pay goes on. but you're in the merchant marines, it did not go on. we were given $1 a day. someone i know very well spent over three years in a prison camp waiting at home. had a check for under $1,100 for payment of almost three years of your life's service. we were also excluded from the gi bill which came out in the early part of the war. and we were -- it was
unfortunate. they tried to resurface it and whatnot but the thing that made america great is the veteran came home and could have enough money to buy a house, get an education, pay for medical bills. and it made easy -- the gi made it very easy, your parents, your grandparents or their parents might have been able to accept that. we didn't get that. we got it later as you will see. we come home with common lifetime ailments. i'm an example. if you looked at me and hear me you may not think i'm 93 years old. i was 15 when i went in. i had malaria, i caught it in saipan in the pacific islands. they treated me but it resurfaced after the war. so i had to be treated for malaria at my own expense and i can no longer give blood.
i cannot give a transfusion because that stays in my system. i had ulcers. at 16 years of age, i came home with ulcers. i wasn't diagnosed and sent to a medical hospital that was run by the government. i paid for that and at the age of 62, a renowned physician determine i didn't have ulcers. i had something called h.pilori and at age 62 they cured it. and then we have something called -- i worked in the engine room, the pipe and is the engine room were covered with asbestos. and so i haves a bes ptosis, probably because of my lifestyle, i have it coating my
lungs which became plated. that's what the physicians tell me. but finally the main unnamed disease that a high percentage of combat veterans faced -- and we don't want to talk about it -- is something called post traumatic stress. that's not its real name. it's post traumatic stress disorder. and over 1 million hospital beds were filled after the war with people who had that and no one wanted to admit they had it because of the word disorder and it could contaminate employment later and even your social prestige. we also paid taxes, by the way, on everything we earned. the average military guy got a $1,500 deduction. i'm not crying in pain. i don't dislike anybody. i don't dislike my government. i love my government. i love my country. i don't like the way it's run at times. they make mistakes. we pay for it. if 1988, 43 years after the war
ended we created the bill of rights and the reason i'm laughing, it's the gi bill -- not the bill of rights. the gi bill in 1988. because 43 years later -- the war, don't forget, i came out at 17. that means i was 60. by then, if you hadn't made enough to take care of yourself, you were in real trouble in this country. 75 years after world war ii, also, they're giving us a great, great honor. they issued upon us -- though, we haven't gotten a medal yet, the congressional gold medal. i'm going to speak to the united states merchant marine service and the armed guard. and i'll be speaking at that convention. and they will be receiving a copy of what it looks like and sometimes thereafter we will receive that gold medal.
in the early years, a lot of people took up our case and said, this isn't fair. this isn't right. i can't go through my life. i can't speak for others, just saying, well, it was wrong and i can't live because i didn't get this or that i can't succeed. i have done very well in my life. if you know about me or look me up on youtube, dave yoho, you'll see i did very well in my life. here's what i said to the congress of the united states, do you, can you, will you ever understand that we gave up our youth when we held up our hands and swore to do what we were asked to do? and then at the bottom of this, i wrote about our letters continually come in, i said these efforts will not offend you. hell, no, we won't go away.
if you ever seen the movie "saving private ryan", you'll see what i'm going to be talking about. in that movie there's a poignant scene that happens at a cemetery in europe, in france. and there's an old man kneeling before a cross, searching for a name. he's supposedly the private ryan of today who survived all the years. and he kneels and tearfully he says, does what we did count? did what i did, what i was asked to do, was i worthy? can you tell me? and yet the unspoken words, if you have friends who are veterans, they don't want to talk about it. get it out of the way and move
on. whatever was wrong was wrong. i want to take you to what we call the second pearl harbor in the merchant marine. it happened december 2, 1943 in italy. a beautiful, beautiful little country spot today. but in 1943 it was a harbor where ships brought in tools and armament and clothing and whatnot. because it was '43 and the war would go on for almost two more years, but in december 1943, there was a ship in that harbor that was carrying explosives that were unnamed at the time, but general bernard montgomery, of some fame, he requisitioned these bombs and one of them, one of these ships, the "uss john
harvey" carried 100 tons of mustard gas bombs. although outlawed after world war i, we were never to use mustard gas. general montgomery requisitioned these to be made in our country and shipped to him on this ship in case the germans, who he was fighting, would take advantage of us and use germ warfare. 100 tons of mustard gas bomb. at about 3:30 in the afternoon, that port having 30 ships in the harbor, look at my hands. normally when you see ships lined up to unload, they line up right next to the dock. this harbor was so loaded they docked this way. there were 30 ships in that harbor. and only one of them had this on it. and when those german planes came in they dropped a bomb on the "uss john harvey" which
exploded. no, no, not exploded. it dissin grated. at the end of the day, 1,000 military, including u.s. allies and merchant marine seamen were killed on that first day. and then a cloud of smoke rises out of this. like a fog. and it's orange in color and it's mustard gas. it defeats your ability to breathe. there was a total of 17 ally ships that were sunk that afternoon at that 3:30 p.m. and why haven't you heard about it? because in the wisdom of our government, at that time, they said, it's not a good thing for people to know. it will take down the moral. i don't judge them on that. but i do tell you, it happened and you can find out about it today, look it up.
december 1943. we call it the invasion barry and we call it second pearl harbor. and i'll leave you with one more thought before i go. i want to tell you about something called mermens. visit the world war ii memorial. it's a sacred place for me and my friends, but it's also a sacred place for you. it holds our history. on one side of the area, it list all the great battle fronts. you'll see it etched in stone. look for the one that says mermance. it's close to the baring sea. norway was owned and controlled by the germans at that time they defeated the norwegian government and they occupied the country and they had housed in the harbor there some of the
great battles -- great ships, one of them, 1942, we had been in the war seven months, and after the war started, we recognized the need to ship goods there. and they put together the largest convoy in american history. tell me how many of your schools, universities are going to tell you what i tell you now. no condemnation. fact. they had a billion dollars worth of material. that's about $5 million. bound for russia. 35 merchant ships. 24 military ships, including cruisers and escorts and
destroyers. air support, submarines, and cargoes containing 300 aircraft, 600 tanks, 4,000 trucks, 1,000 jeeps, and 150 tons of general cargo. what happened was the barren sea is a treacherous place to be to begin with. the german fleet was in oslo, as i mentioned, oslo, norway, they have water temperature in that area of 45 degrees below zero, 45 degrees below zero. you hit the water, you got four or five minutes and you're done. hypothermia takes you. hurricane winds creating waves 60 to 70-foot high. you can look this up and you'll see portrayals of this and you'll see the ships. they have pictures of the ships coated with ice and the men out
there with hatchets chopping the ice to keep the ship mobile. there was an admiral in uk, in what is today great britain, the united kingdom. and that admiral had charge of that part of the war space. although we were in russian water and american ships, he was in charge. on the belief that the ship i mentioned which was the largest, most effective battleship in the world, was housed there. and the belief that was going to come out and attack ships, the admiral ordered all of the support away from this convoy. all of the support. within a matter of hours and five days from the port where they were sailing to, this convoy was condemned to death.
34 ships. 11, count them, 11 ships get through. the rest are sunk. young sailors thrown into the water. you can make it four or five minutes. and the ships can't stop. in the end, 120 u.s. and allied merchant men died. most were killed immediately when they hit the water. those who survived came home crippled, maimed and emotionally scarred for life. it remains one of the saddest and shameless episodes -- shameful episodes of the war. but, again, no repudiation. we are dealing with human beings who sometimes -- when that war ended, i was in the pacific ocean. i was on a ship that was destined to be at the invasion of okinawa. i was on a tanker.
i refueled on the ship. it was often called a fleet oiler. four days later, i became 17 years of age. people ask me, what was it like to be a kid? we weren't kids. we were kids when we went in. but the day you go in and the day you go on duty, it's the maturity. if you're not a man, you don't make it, you don't cut it. i often weep as i think of these young men, my brothers, my friends, my associates, veterans, who hit that water and knew they were going to die. they weren't going to make it. and this is why we so revere this great country of ours. this is still the greatest country in the world. do they make mistakes, it's
natural, normal to make mistakes. now i would hope that you carry with you something from my message. i bear no, no ill feelings for what was done to us in that service. they did try to make reference and make reprimand and hopefully it suits well the position of those who are still alive. i am going to be speaking five days from now in maryland to the american merchant marine convention, the armed guard will be there, as the will the u.s. maritime service. i'm going to be there because they are honoring us with the dedication of the medal which we are soon to receive, the congressional gold medal. and i salute my brothers, my sisters in arms. i say if you are moved in any way by what i've told you, i ask
to find out about the american merchant marine. they're our voice. they have kept us alive. they're a small organization because we -- there's not enough members left. as i wrap this up, i will say, do you have any questions? i will answer most of those, except those dealing with my age or if a -- when you're with others will you tell them about us. will you ask them to visit the world war ii memorial in washington, d.c., and tune in to find out what went on in our lives. and then say to whoever you're talking to, a reminder, we gave up our yesterdays for their tomorrows. god bless the united states of america. god bless you for tuning in today.
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