The Service of Merchant Mariners in World War II

Reflections on the Service of Merchant Mariners in World War II

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Robert M. Cusick. I have spent most of my working career, starting in the summer of 1941, in the United States Merchant Marine, until the summer of 1987, at which time I retired from this service.

I had achieved a license from the United States Coast Guard, (which agency of the United States Government is in charge of the U.S. Merchant Marine) as Master of Oceangoing Ships, and First Class Pilot's licenses for Boston Harbor and New York Harbor. During World War II I served for three years in the United States Merchant Marine, and for one year in the United States Army Transport Service.

During these four years of service I was classified as a civilian, under the United States Government War Shipping Administration or the United States Army. I was under the Unified System of Military Justice, as applicable to all United States Armed Forces, courts martial, and wartime regulations. This was the system adapted by the Government of the United States of America, at the beginning of our involvement in World War II, as being the most expeditious for the sealift capacity of the thousands of ships and trained seamen contemplated to be built and manned.

Our Government made a study of putting these ships under the U.S. Navy, but with so many ships having to be built for the Navy, and the thousands of crews needing to man them, our Government opted to the system which was put into place, with a coterie of 55,000 trained seamen, expanded to 250,000 by war's end, and experienced steamship companies, oil tanker companies, and public utilities to operate the ships, under a General Agency Agreement for the United States Army, and Government War Shipping Administration. As many seamen expected to be classified as veterans of the foreign waters, under fire with U-boats, enemy airplane bombardments, enemy warships, enemy surface raiders, various type mines, enemy patrol torpedo and schnell boats, and enemy shore artillery during countless invasions, and although President Franklin D. Roosevelt indicated that, had he lived until the final resolution of the conflict, he had planned to have the merchant seamen classified as the other Armed Forces, this action was only taken place in a belated manner, in January 1988, when our Government issued to merchant seamen who had served fighting the Axis enemies in foreign waters, honorable discharges, Forms 214s, and medals to accompany the foreign war campaign badges and bars, which had, during World War II, been issued to those who were in these areas of combat by the Government of the United States of America service, the War Shipping Administration.

Those seamen who had served on merchant ships were issued by the Armed Force that was in charge of the merchant service during World War II, the United States Coast Guard, and those seamen who had served on ships of the Army, or Navy, transport services, were issued honorable discharges from these respective services. These seamen are now qualified to be accepted by all American veterans organizations. In addition to having been issued an honorable discharge, as a testimonial of honest and faithful service from the Armed Forces of the United States of America, one veterans' organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, by the nature of its criterion of requiring foreign service, requires of the veteran to have been issued a campaign badge by the Government of the United States of America, as proof of service in foreign wars.

In my case, having met these two criteria, I was accepted into membership, in 2001, in the proud organization of the V.F.W. It was an auspicious occasion for me, as I can continue, along with such a fine organization, of men and women standing for our country, helping our present-day service men and women, and fighting so hard, as they did on enemy land, and sea, and air, to assure that our fellow veterans get the care and benefits that they so richly deserve. I hope and entrust that these few lines will help to clarify for those, and they are many, these aspects of the facts that were extant during the four year conflict of World War II, and how they have all played out. If my report could clarify, for anyone, or cause anyone who may have not understand these facts, in their entirety, to view them in the light of the merchant seamen's service to our beloved country, I shall be eternally grateful, and have the feeling that I've done a service to my country, and its service people.

In my particular case, it began 63 years ago, in the summer of 1941, when with my friend, Paul Keaveney,went to the Navy Yard in Boston, to join the Reserve. Paul was accepted but I was I was turned down, not having 20/20 eyesight without glasses, the Navy being very particular in this regard, pre-war. In July, I shipped out on oil tankers, on a run between Texas and Bayonne, NJ, carrying crude oil. In April 1942, having seen many ships torpedoed, and not having guns, Naval Armed Guards aboard, or convoy escorts, I quit the merchant marine in NJ and went to the Brooklyn Army base to join the regular Army, feeling that I'd have a better chance to live through the war. I was on Army transports for a year, was discharged to attend the OCS, and upon graduating on 10 Dec. 1943, was assigned to a Liberty ship, the first of three until the war ended. A ship that I was on, the SS WILLIAM D. PENDER, was on 14 Aug. 1944 in the invasion of southern France (Provence), and was next to the command ship, USS CATOCTIN, as part of a ring to protect against German bombers.

Later, on the SS LUNSFORD RICHARDSON, I was in Antwerp on Christmas 1944, and came back for another trip. ... I have not gone into myriad facts and figures about the war at sea, and the part that was played in World War II by the seamen and the USN Armed Guard gunners who sailed, fought and, in too many cases, laid down their lives, in that terrible conflict.

God knows, the facts are all out there for anyone who would care to look at them in an objective manner. I would like to close this treatise with the words of memorial to so many who died, in service to our country, on the same ships, in freezing water, or broiling sun on life rafts, or storm-tossed lifeboats, as they struggled to reach far-away land, or the hopes of a rescue, the crews on merchant ships, the seamen and Navy Armed Guard gunners.

There are no roses on a sailor's grave
No Lilies on an ocean wave.
The only tribute is the seagull's sweeps
And the teardrops that a sweetheart weeps.

Robert M. Cusick


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