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Roy Hoglund, U.S. Merchant Marine; and Jean Hoglund, U.S. Navy

wartime picture of Roy Hoglund later picture of Roy Hoglund

U.S. merchant marine veteran Roy Hoglund, one of the 200,000-plus members of the U.S. Maritime Service who served during World War II, supported Allied forces during invasion operations in Italy.

The merchant marine is the civilian branch of the U.S. Navy but serves as military personnel during times of war. During World War II, merchant marine seamen operated ships that carried military supplies or troops in support of military operations.

Hoglund, who was born and raised in Duluth, Minn., and spent much time sailing the Great Lakes, had never been in a "salt-water ship" until he boarded a Liberty ship in Norfolk, Va., bound for Oran, in what is now Algeria.

Near North Africa, Hoglund's ship almost took a direct hit. Another merchant mariner told Hoglund to come out on deck and watch the action. When he got to the deck, Hoglund said, it was raining steel, as a firefight was going on above their position. Suddenly, Hoglund saw two "perfectly round bombs" fall from the sky. "I was going to jump in the water but (instead) dove under a mattress in the stern," he said. It was a good decision, as the bombs landed in the water near where Hoglund had planned to jump.

Hoglund's ship hauled soldiers and ammunitions to invasions including Salerno Bay and Anzio in Italy, and were exposed to constant air raids that destroyed many merchant marine ships and killed thousands of men. "One time we had 10,000 tons of bombs" on board, Hoglund said. "The most dangerous (load) was a hold full of five-gallon cans of gasoline." Hoglund said the gas cans took up about one-fifth of the space on the 440-foot-long ship.

Hoglund saw many U.S. ships sunk during invasion operations, including a memorable attack on the light cruiser USS SAVANNAH during the invasion of Salerno. "It was a bright, sunny day," he said. "I looked up and there's an airplane about this small," he said, holding his fingers about two inches apart. He saw something dropping out of the plane that he thought were mailbags -- but soon realized the falling objects were deadly. He saw the bombs hit SAVANNAH, just a quarter-mile away from Hoglund. The ship was eventually saved, but nearly 200 men died in the attack.

Merchant marine vessels and men took a big hit during the invasion. "Twelve Liberty ships went in, eight of us came out," he said.

Hoglund, who served on about seven Liberty ships during World War II, performed the duties equivalent to a chief warrant officer in the Navy, he said. Promoted from seaman to able seaman and then to ship's carpenter, Hoglund was responsible for above-deck operations, including the anchors (the ships had a five-ton and a seven-ton anchor aboard), lifeboats and bilges.

Hoglund's wife, Jean Hoglund, 84, served in the Navy during World War II.

"I'd never been anywhere," she said, explaining why she decided to join the war effort. "First I joined the WACs (Women's Army Corps)," but they were taking too long, she said. "I joined the Navy because they took me quickly."

Jean Hoglund, who served from early 1945 to 1946, was sent to boot camp at Fordham University in New York.

She described the nine-week training as "rough." "We did a lot of marching," she said. The recruits were up at 5 a.m., got ready and had to have everything in their living quarters spotless. Beds were made to military standards. Jean Hoglund, who lived in a sixth-floor apartment with five other women, said the recruits were forbidden to use the elevator. The women assembled three times a day for meals, when they double-timed it across campus to the cafeteria.

After more than two months of consistent physical activity, she noticed a definite change in her body. "I came out a lot smaller," she said. "I had to have my uniform retailored."

Jean Hoglund graduated with a rating of seaman first class and was transferred to San Diego, where she worked in the commandant's office in the 11th Naval District headquarters. "I did a little of everything," she said. "I took care of all of his mail. It was like a secretarial pool."

She lived on Coronado Island and took a Navy gig (a boat that carries personnel) to her job at headquarters and then back home. "I met some lovely girls from all over" the country, she said. "We used to go down to the beach, we rented horses" and rode them on the beach.

She said her time in the service was a wonderful experience for a small-town girl who had seen little of the country during the first 19 years of her life.

Age: 84
Hometown: Duluth, Minnesota
Residence: Cathedral City, California
Military branch: U.S. Maritime Service - Merchant Marine
Years served: January 1943 - January 1946

Originally published in The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, CA, January 2, 2010.

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