Academic journal article Military Review

Merchant Marine Survivors of World War II: Oral Histories of Cargo Carrying under Fire

Academic journal article Military Review

Merchant Marine Survivors of World War II: Oral Histories of Cargo Carrying under Fire

Article excerpt

MERCHANT MARINE SURVIVORS OF WORLD WAR II: Oral Histories of Cargo Carrying Under Fire Michael Gillen, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2014, 216 pages

If you want to read interesting, first-person stories of civilian seamen as they navigated the perils of World War II--this is the book for you. It is worth your time to briefly set down the Clausewitz and listen to what life was like for the merchant seaman directly from those men.

In a previous issue of Military Review, I wrote a review of John Bruning's Battle for the North Atlantic: The Strategic Naval Campaign that Won World War U in Europe. My primary criticism of that book was its dedication to the sacrifices of merchant mariners without actually interviewing any of them to get a description of their struggles. Serendipitously, Merchant Marine Survivors of World War II forms the perfect reparation for that omission.

This book is a quick read that provides twenty transcriptions from taped interviews with World War II merchant mariners who recount their personal adventures. Each of the interviews are only a few pages long, and you can easily read one or two and set the book down to read again another time. The author himself is uniquely qualified to record and report on the stories--he is a merchant mariner himself. He graciously provides a photocopy of his own "Merchant Mariner's Document" or Z-Card, right inside the front cover. Reader beware; the stories are transcribed with minimal alteration--and the language is quintessential sailor talk--so don't hand this book to the kids.

The transcriptions are gripping in their details of the perils faced by mariners. The stories include accounts of ship sinkings and their aftermaths, anecdotes that both fascinate and horrify. For example, in one story, men who spent days on a lifeboat in the cold North

Atlantic had to have their feet amputated after being rescued. …

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