American merchant mariners played a crucial role during World War II. They manned the ships that carried troops and supplies to the theatres of war. Many died as a result of attacks launched by Hitler’s U-boats against merchant shipping. Amongst the thousands who served in the United States Merchant Marine during the war were the following individuals. Thankfully, they survived and would become famous writers, singers and actors.
NOTE: The information provided below was sourced and condensed from Wikipedia. All the photos are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Bellow in 1964
Saul Bellow (1915–2005)
Canadian-born American writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976,
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1976), and National Book Award (1954, 1965 and 1971). Served in the U.S. Merchant during World War II, during which time he completed his first novel, Dangling Man (1944), about a young Chicago man waiting to be drafted for the war.
Ellison in 1961
Ralph Ellison (1913–1994)
American novelist best known for his novel, Invisible Man. Joined the U.S. Merchant Marine towards the end of WWII (he was eligible for the draft at the start of the war but was not drafted).
Vance, early 1980s
Jack Vance (1916–2013)
Acclaimed American mystery, fantasy, and science fiction writer (John Holbrook Vance in real life). Despite his poor eyesight, became an able seaman in the U.S. Merchant marine in 1943
by memorising an eye chart.
Guthrie in 1943
Woody Guthrie (1912–1967)
Legendary singer-songwriter who wrote “This Land Is Your Land”, one of America’s most famous folk songs. Served in the U.S. Merchant Marine, 1943–1945, as messman and dish washer aboard the merchant ships SS William B. Travis, SS William Floyd, and SS Sea Porpoise.
Williams in 1969
Andy Williams (1927–2012)
American singer active in the music industry for over 70 years. Joined the U.S. Merchant Marine at the age of 17, serving until the end of World War II.
Stuarti, circa 2000
Enzo Stuarti (1919–2005)
Italian-American tenor and musical theater performer. Joined the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1940 and assigned to the tanker SS Charles Pratt. Ship torpedoed by a German U-boat on 21 December 1940 but Stuarti survived the attack.
James Garner (1928–2014)
American film and television actor who shot to fame as Bret Maverick in the Western series, Maverick (1957-1960). Served in the U.S. Merchant Marine at age 16 near the end of WWII. Said to have liked the work and his shipmates but suffered from chronic seasickness.
Lord in 1977
Jack Lord (1920–1998)
American television and film actor (John Joseph Patrick Ryan in real life) best remembered for his role as Steve McGarrett in the CBS television program Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980). Graduate of
United States Merchant Marine Academy. Spent first year of US involvement in WWII with the United States Army Corp of Engineers and later served inthe U.S. Merchant Marine as an able seaman.
Click here for more about Jack Lord’s military and merchant marine service.
Robertson in 1981
Clifford Robertson (1923–2011)
American actor and aviator who won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film Charly. Served as a third mate in the U.S. Merchant Marine during WWII.
Click here for more about Clifford Robertson’s service in the merchant marine, including his brush with death in the Philippines as a crewman on the freighter SS Admiral Cole.
Photo credit: Alan Light
Under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence