A day in the life

Grandpa Bear Was a Merchant Marine

This past Sunday, our Grandpa Bear passed away at the age of 87. Although he was named Alvin, he had been called Al, Bud, Chief, Boss, but mostly, The Bear. He joined his wife of over thirty years Peggy.  The bear was many things, Father, husband, owner of several Auto Part stores and one of the unsung heroes of the Merchant Marines.

When he was young he lied about his age (you had to be sixteen) to join the Merchant Marines and shipped out on the Liberty Ship, the SS John H. Couch. The John H. Couch was subsequently sunk during WWII. It was hit by a torpedo bomb (a torpedo dropped by an airplane). Bear tells the story of how the ship was darn near unsinkable. After saving many of the crewmembers with the help of nearby Marines, they were camped on an island. They watched the Couch burn for a week. It did not sink. Finally, because it would not sink and the glow of the flames hindered nighttime operations, an unmanned boat was sent out with TNT to blow it up. It worked and the Couch went to rest in Davy Jone’s Locker.

The Merchant Marines is a fleet of United State’s civilian-owner merchant vessels, operated by either the government or the private sector. In peacetime, the Merchant Marine transports cargo and passengers. In time of war, however, the Merchant Marine becomes an auxiliary to theNavy, and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies.

The first use of a merchant marine in wartime occurred on June 12, 1775, in Maine. Citizens, hearing the news from Concord and Lexington, captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta. The citizens had been told to either load the ships with lumber to build British barracks in Boston, or go hungry. They chose to fight. When word of the revolt reached Boston, the Continental Congress and other colonies issued letters to privateers. The privateers then interrupted the British supply chain along the eastern seaboard. Merchant Marines have been used in wartime since.

In Bears, time it was World War II. As mentioned, he was on a liberty ship. Liberty ships were called such because of FDR. The ships were at first had a bad public image due to their appearance. During a speech announcing the emergency shipbuilding program, President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the ship as “a dreadful looking object”, and Time magazine called it an “Ugly Duckling”. To try to ease public opinion, 27 September 1941 was dubbed Liberty Fleet Day, as the first 14 “Emergency” vessels were launched that day. The first of these was SS Patrick Henry, launched by FDR. During his remarks at the launch ceremony, FDR cited Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech that finished “Give me liberty or give me death”; Roosevelt said that this new class of ships would bring liberty to Europe, which gave rise to the name Liberty ship.

The Liberty Ship at first took 230 days to build but the construction time quickly reduced to 42 days. Most were named after Famous Americans anyone with a $2 million bond could suggest a name. In all 2710 were built during WWII. The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her five holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition. Liberty ships were also either lightly armed or not at all.  Some were equipped with any or all of the following:

One 3 inch bow gun

One 4or 5 inch stern gun

Two 37 mm bow guns

Six 20 mm machine guns

The Merchant Marines and the Liberty ships are the unsung heroes of wars. Without them, many of our fighting forces would not have received the necessary supplies to keep up the good fight. We are proud of our Grandpa Bear! In our eyes, he was and remains a hero.