Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Frank Ambrosy on October 30, 2002, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and ...
Mark Miller: Mark Miller.
SI: Mr. Ambrosy, thank you very much for coming in to see us today.
Frank Ambrosy: No problem.
MM: To begin with, I'd like to ask you a bit about your parents. Where were they from and what was their background?
FA: My parents came from Poland and they moved into Newark, oh, God, it had to be 1912. The fact of the matter is my father came here and, for some reason, he didn't like something and he went back to Poland and it's a wonder they let him back a couple of years later, you know, back in this country, because in those days, you know, you went back, they figured it, "This guy don't want to stay, why should we let him back? Give someone else a turn to get over here." So, in, exactly where in Poland, I don't know, Gdansk, or somewhere, they were born and raised. There are still some relatives living there yet. I think, my brother went there about four years ago and whether they were really related to us or not because the name was the same, Ambrosy. Actually, my name is supposed to be spelled A-M-B-R-O-Z-Y, but, believe it or not, when I joined the Merchant Marine, I had to show them, you know, you had to show them your birth certificate and on it was written S-Y and they said, "Oh, no, you can't be going with a Z-Y you have to go with what's on that birth certificate." So, from then on and, I guess, it was June 15 it became, you know, A-M-B-R-O-S-Y. ... One of my brothers had changed to S-E, so, we got three different versions of my last name in the family.
MM: Did your father serve in the military?
FA: He was in the Polish Army for a short time, but, being that he was only like five foot seven inches, this is what, I think, he told me, if I remember, fifty years ago or more, that they wouldn't, you know, keep him in there. He was in there, but, then they discharged him, or something was out of order.
MM: Was that during World War I?
FA: No, that had to be before that. Yes, when he was, no, that was way before that, when he was probably just a teenager. He probably joined and I don't know if there was any war going on in 1912? ... It had to be before that. He would be like nineteen, but, he was born, I think, in 1894, ... yes, about 1912.
SI: Your parents married in the United States. Was that after your father had come back the second time?
FA: Actually, my name was destined to be what it is because my mother was going out with another guy and his name was Ambrosy. Do you believe that? And for some reason, she didn't like him, and whatnot, so, they got married at a very young age. I think she was only eighteen and he was like twenty and they married in Newark, New Jersey.
MM: Now, what prompted your parents to move to the United States?
FA: Oh, I don't know, I have no idea. It probably had something to do with, you know, better life, or there was not much work over there back then, you know, those years ... as it is today. It's even hard in those countries for work.
MM: What was your father's occupation?
FA: Carpenter. As a matter-of-fact, when he came here he had to like scrounge for work. He lived in Newark and he had to go to like Amsterdam, New York, that's past Albany, and worked there for a couple, you know, months and he would come back by train. Hey, wherever there was work at that time, you just took it.
MM: Did your mother work?
FA: No, she never did. I'll tell you why. I came from a very big family.
MM: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
FA: There were six and six, six girls and six boys, but, most of the girls are gone. Believe it or not, the oldest one is still alive of the bunch. She is eighty-seven and I lost the other five, and one brother passed away, and the youngest passed away just a little over a year ago.
MM: What was it like growing up with such a large family?
FA: Oh, it was good in a way, but, it was rough, because we moved from Newark to Woodbridge, New Jersey in 1929. God, we lived in a garage. ... I'm saying a garage; it wasn't a car garage, but, the equivalent to that, while my father was building us our house. He used to take the, there was a trolley that ran from Newark, right next to the Redding Railroad, which they done away with in 19, oh, early '50s, maybe even the '40s and today it's nothing but a big development of, you know, like condominiums and that type of thing there now, and he'd take every weekend and work on that house. God, it must have been six months before we were able to move into it and we used to get our water from a spring that was behind us and we had an outhouse. Well, there wasn't the twelve of us then, yet. There were probably seven of us, or something like that. ... I guess, they had that many kids because there was no TV or radio. [Laughter] Got to have something to do. No, in those days big families were, I went to school with a lot of big, big families. As a matter-of-fact, I went to somebody's funeral, there were just as many as his family. After I read the obituaries, oh, they had this many in that family, too, like seven boys and five girls.
MM: Where did you go to elementary school?
FA: In Woodbridge.
MM: How was it there?
FA: It was all right. I mean, school is ... the elementary, like from first to fourth grade, is on School Street. It's still there, but, it's used by the township for, I don't know, the town uses it. The big steeple that was on there, they took that down because it was too dangerous and right next to it was the rest of the, you know, the middle school, I guess, you might say, from fifth to eighth grade. Then after I graduated eighth, I went to a vocational school in Perth Amboy for two years and I got kind of bored. Here it is, the war is on, it's 1944 and it's coming near June, here I am, at a movie, and I'm really like, gee, what are these guys, seventeen-eighteen they're gone. They went to the service and what few are left is my age or younger. I'm in this movie and I'm, you know, we're talking about it. He says, this one friend of mine says, "Hey you want to join the Merchant Marines like Eddie did?" This kid, Eddie, I went to school with. I say, "Yes, gee, how will I do that?" And I talked to my sister, who worked at Maersk's and she said, "Hey, I know a guy, he's familiar with that. Let me talk to him." So, you want me to go beyond this, or because now I'm gonna get myself in the Merchant Marines?
SI: Before Pearl Harbor was bombed, what did you know about what was going on in Europe and what was going on in Asia?
FA: I knew there was a war going on, and all that, and that we weren't in it, yet, but, I didn't know that much about it. Because in between school, on weekends, I would go on the Colonia Golf Course and caddy and make my few dollars that way and during the summer I did it, like the whole week, which was good.
SI: Did your parents have any concerns, since Poland was the first country invaded by the Germans, because they had family there?
FA: Oh, yes, they were quite concerned, worried. I remember they used to get letters and write, you know, back and forth, not very often, maybe every two months they'd write a letter and two months later, I saw they get another letter back from there. I guess, the mail service was terrible over there. As a matter-of-fact, it still is today. My sister sends care packages to somebody over there and you have to send it through the Polish churches out in, then it's pretty much guaranteed they will get it, but, you if you send it by regular mail, I don't know, the people that do the mail over there ... "let's see what's in this one," and help themselves, or what. They almost could read through the box what's going to be in there. The fact of the matter is, my sister, she sends money, like in a jar, plastic jar, and rolls it up into like a candy. She sends candy in this jar with the money in there. ... I said, "Jeannie, how do you know that the people aren't going to take the candy, anyway." She said, "No, we were told that they don't bother, they have that there."
MM: Did the Depression have much of an impact on your family?
FA: Oh, God, did it. We had to go on relief to town of Woodbridge, you know, like, I guess, they gave you some kind of a voucher for groceries a week. I remember going there, waiting for a check for a pair of shoes for five dollars. I waited there all day and, I guess, my brothers and sisters had to do the same thing. It was tough. I even went somewhere to get apples that they were giving and, I don't know, they must have picked those apples off of some backyard tree. They didn't even come off a plantation, you know, they were like terrible, but, when you're hungry. It was rough. As a matter-of-fact, we got out of that Depression, you know, being poor when the war did start and we got into it, my father went to work for the shipyards in Perth Amboy, and then he was making good money, but, as a carpenter, his work was, you know, not that much. There wasn't that much around.
SI: Did your father work as a carpenter in the shipyards?
FA: Yes, right. What he used to do was when, the LCI was the landing craft infantries, and whatnot, they would bring them, I think from Harry's Steel in South Plainfield, they brought them by pieces, in Perth Amboy, they put them together. You know, the Coast Guard, and whatnot ran these and the Navy, you know, like the landing craft that would land at the beaches and whatnot. Well, they put them together in Perth Amboy, and then, they'd slide them down these big wooden planks and when they did slide them down, a lot of the planks, and whatnot got damaged. So, he had to repair those for the next group and also, like, I guess, they had to support the craft, you know, when they were putting it together with, I don't know, big planks or beams, whatever. Believe it or not, I used to take him there. ... I was only fourteen. I used to drive him there. There was only one cop, I think, in the beat in Woodbridge at the time, and he'd walk. So, I took him from Woodbridge to Sewaren. He worked at nights, like from eight to four in the morning, or something like that.
SI: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
FA: Well, I guess, that was early in the morning. I was on my way to the Colonia Golf Course and I could hear them talking, "Oh, Pearl Harbor got bombed," and this and that. It didn't dawn on me too much about that because at 1941, on December 7 ... I'm still thirteen years old, you know, going to be fourteen at the end of the month, because I was born on December 31. Like I say, I was on the golf course and they were talking, "Oh, yes, watch, this is going to happen, that's going to happen. You're not going get anymore gas," and this and that, which eventually did happen.
MM: Did any of your brothers enlist?
FA: My brother, Albert, enlisted. My brother, John, enlisted, and then, I came later on, and then, later on, my other two brothers enlisted, but that was for the Korean War.
SI: How did your parents feel about all their sons going into the services?
FA: Well, my brother, Albert, enlisted. He was bored with life, too, and all that, you know, big family, and I don't even know wherever he was working at that time. I forgot where. Was he working at the Raritan Arsenal? My mother, she says, "Albert, you know, with a big family like this, you could become exempt, you know, because somebody has to feed this family." I forget how many there was of us by that time in 1941, quite a few. I think, we were up to ten already, you know, boys and girls. He says, "No, no, I'm going to join. Everybody else did. All my friends are gone." When he graduated high school, about that time already, so he left. He joined the Army. Do you want to know where he went and all that?
FA: "Believe it or not," we sent something into, my sister did, to "Believe it or not," have you heard of that?
FA: Yes, because his name was Albert Ambrose, AA. We lived on Adelaide Avenue. He joined the Army, he wound up in Algiers, Africa, [and] then he wound up in Anzio, everything with A's. Well, he was with Armored Infantry, another A. He was with, I think, Patton's Army in Africa. In the Army, where he would follow the tank with his rifle in his hand, and whatnot, and from there, they sent him to Anzio, and, eventually, he wound up in France. He had it pretty rough and, my brother, John, he lucked out in a way and he didn't. They have maneuvers here, before they were going to send them over to Germany, and during one of those maneuvers, he got machine gunned while, you know, he was crawling and they think it was, every now and then, the machine gun, has what they call a low round, is it? In other words, maybe, there wasn't enough powder in it and the bullet didn't go as far as it should have and, you know, it dropped, but guess what happened? About ninety-nine percent of his outfit got killed in Germany crossing the Rhine, or something like that, so, he lucked out in a way, but, he lost a lot of blood. The doctor even said, "I don't know how you made this one, but, you did." So, he never did go overseas [to Germany]..
MM: Had you ever been on a ship before enlisting in the Merchant Marines?
FA: Before I enlisted? No. No big ship, or anything like that. Maybe small boats, or something like that, you know, around lakes or Sewaren creeks.
SI: Was joining the Merchant Marines a new experience? You hadn't had much background in ...
FA: No, I didn't have much background in that, but, Uncle Sam didn't care and to carry on where I said, where my sister told me, this fellow that she worked with, said that he'd take me to join. I said, "Where is that?" He says, "Well, you meet him at the Rahway station and they were signing people up at 7," I think, it was 7, Broadway. It's right, not far from the Twin Towers [World Trade Center], the lower part, near the Battery. As a matter-of-fact, I took a ride there around two years ago and I said to my son, "That's where I signed up to join." In that time, we used to get our mail, we had to go to Woodbridge, walk a mile to get our mail. You didn't get delivery at your house. So I signed up and all that, and, oh, I had to get a paper, my mother signing it and it had to be notarized and she wouldn't sign it. I said," Ma, you don't sign this, I'm going to sign it and take it to the notary." So, she signed it, and went to the notary, and I brought it back the next day. I had to take the train from there to Newark, and then, the subway. That's another story I'll tell you, about the subway, and then, I brought it there that morning, I guess, and they gave me a quick physical. They had a doctor there, and whatnot, because there were other people joining and he checked [my ear] and he found a lot of wax in my ears. He says, "You and this other fellow go to [the doctor]," I forget where it was, it was a doctor. They cleaned our ears out, right then and there, and came back that afternoon and he says, "wait for a letter from us." Well, I got the letter but it was a day late when I got it. I was supposed to be here, like today, and I say, "Oh, I'll go tomorrow." So, I went the next day and they sent me and around half a dozen other guys, or a dozen, I think, we went by, I don't know, if we went by taxi or bus. I can't remember that part. We went to Sheepshead Bay for our training.
MM: What was the training like? What was involved?
FA: Well, it was the Coast Guard that ran the training. ... To Sheepshead Bay, from that 7 Broadway, and the training, you asked me how the training was? It was by the Coast Guard, that was training us. There were like three barracks there and one was, I was in the Eastern Wind, I think, it was called. The other one was the Western Oak. I forget what the third one was. They gave us our uniforms, you know, nice, similar to the Navy except it didn't have the buttons. It had the regular one button. At that time, I only think it had a zipper and the top was like the Navy, with a little flap on the back, and we had white hats and blue hats. The blue ones, you wore with your blue dungarees and if you were on work detail, or whatnot, and we trained from June 15th to about September the 15th. We trained how to steer a ship. How they did that was, you know, the outdoor, above the ground pool, the round one, it was something similar to that, sunk in the ground, and then, on the top, it had a metal with a steering wheel, a ship's steering wheel on it and a gyro compass and it had a little motor on there. There must have been ten of these and you would get on that and he'd say, "Okay, go steer now 180 degrees," or whatever, you know, and you turn it and the thing moves, you know went around just like you're on a ship. I always remember the guy that did that. He was in the Marine Marine, too. They called him Peg Leg because, I guess, he lost a leg while he was on one of these ships that got torpedoed, or something, so, they gave him that job to do, you know, working for the, he was still a Merchant Marine guy, but, I think, he was sort of working for the Coast Guard and they had gunnery, you know, like not outdoor gunnery, the type of like, on a screen. You had the gun and you're shooting. It's something similar, I guess, they have down the Shore, you know, you shoot at things like an arcade shooting at a screen, you know. The plane would come from one angle and you have to try to hit it and, whatnot. So, I had a course in that in gunnery, everybody did. What else did we do for practice? A lot of marching. Oh, there's another story I have to tell you. You heard of the Lyle Gun? All right, it's a gun that we practiced with over there and I'm saying to myself, "What the heck you ever going to use this for?" Then they explained to us that maybe, one day and sure enough became true, we did use it once. It's a gun that they fire with a rope about the size of my pinky finger, maybe even thinner. They fire it from one ship to another and they could go about, oh, I'd say about 200 yards at least, maybe more, and with that, they pull on the bigger rope and it becomes like a clothesline, and with that, you could send a man from one ship to the other and this happened. In the North Atlantic, in the winter, like late November, when the North Atlantic is a horrible, I mean, it's so bad that I don't know how this doctor, if that's what he was, even volunteered to go from that little destroyer onto our tanker, because somebody got sick on there, and I don't know if he had appendix or what? And I'm seeing him wheeling across, but, I'm so seasick I could care less. I'm saying to myself, "Man, that guy's got to be nuts," throwing up at the same time. God forbid, I never did see him go back. You know, you had to keep, I don't even know how they did that, all we do was fire it, but, how they, on a destroyer, managed to keep that taunt, because the rope is going like this, because that little, we called them tin cans, that little destroyer escort is bouncing around like a cork and the storm is so bad, you know. I mean, it's like, we were in a convoy of about twenty ships and destroyers around us and, in between, and the storm is that bad that when your ship went down you never even got to see that other ship for about a minute, later, when you came back up. The waves are like fifty foot high. Believe you me, don't ever go on the North Atlantic on a cruise ship in the winter. That and the North Sea are the two worst place I ever hit. I had typhoons in the Pacific, but, that was the worst. It is miserable. I got off the track somewhere, but, that's all right.
MM: You were sixteen when you enlisted?
MM: Was that uncommon, to be such a young age?
FA: Well, I guess, at the beginning, they were taking seventeen and eighteen, but, then they lost quite a few, you know, the Merchant Marines lost percentage wise more than the Navy or the Army and whatnot. In other words, for every ten men, we lost like say five, whereas the Army or the Marines lost four. You know, we didn't have that great a number, but, like we lost the most and you were saying about sixteen?
MM: Was that uncommon?
FA: Well, no, then they finally decided, "hey, a sixteen year old? We'll take you." You know, I mean, we have to, we got no more men and they took a lot of foreigners and I sailed with them, the Natural Maritime Unit, with a lot of foreigners. I even sailed with a kid from the Congo, well, that was after the war. From the Congo, they must have brought him here when he was a kid and taught him here. Yes, a little black [kid]; he worked down the engine room. I sailed with guys from Norway, Sweden, Australia, and on that ship, the tanker, I went to Australia during the war. I don't know [if] he was a special agent, or what, but, he got to Australia and he disappeared. We never did see him again and he was the electrician on there. He could have been, you know, some kind of ... working for undercover or something. Why would he disappear and stay in Australia? The war is going on there. There were no men there in Australia. I mean, all the men, even fifteen year olds, were gone to war, I think.
SI: When you were training at Sheepshead, was there any kind of specific training or was it just the general instruction?
FA: Well, it was general, you know, learn about ships, how to steer them. Which I eventually did. I started out; I went out as a utility man, which was really an all around guy, you know. If they needed you to hand out linen, or the cook needed somebody to peel potatoes, or you had to serve the Armed Guard, or they needed, you know. It was just the government ... they don't have that today, the government, you know, was willing to pay anything just to keep a good, full crew and keep the Armed Guard on a Merchant ship, a Liberty ship, or a Victory ship, or a tanker. They had like twenty-two Armed Guards on there, which manned the big guns. We had a five-inch in the back, five-inch .38, three-inch in the back, and about six, I think, there were, 40mm guns and the merchant crew, the able ones were able, the hell if they do and let them fire those guns, but, you help with the ammunition, especially for the big gun, you had to bring it from way down below, you help, to you know, they passed it on, you know, as they were firing it away. Now where were we at?
SI: When you joined the Merchant Marines did you realize how dangerous it was?
FA: I think I was too stupid to realize that. I was just happy to get, you know, get going. I was just really happy to get going and I don't know that part of training was climbing ropes up and down, you had to learn that, and climbing ladders, what do they call them? One was the Jacob's Ladder, that's what the pilots usually used when they come on board. It's a different type of ladder, it's got like wooden, so your feet get on, you know, a pilot might be an older guy. No, I didn't realize the danger until years later when that first ship they put me on in Perth Amboy was a tanker loading down with 50,000 barrels of 100 octane gasoline. At least, higher than what you got now because then the airplanes needed, those fighter planes, needed a real high octane gas you know, to get them going. What do they go then, 350-400 miles an hour? I don't think they went much more than that. Not like these jets today.
MM: What were your duties on board the ship?
FA: Well, like I said, I told you about being a utility guy. I did that for two trips, and then, I went to the Coast Guard and they organized, changed over, I wanted to be a deck hand. So, I took my lifeboat test and whatnot, which, oh, that's something else we did at Sheepshead Bay, learning, you know, to man lifeboats and how to run them, and then, I took my tests and I got my ordinary seaman's papers, and then, on that trip, I went out as an ordinary seaman and, eventually, wound up as an able-bodied seaman, which is you could be a boson, or anything like that. It's the highest you can be, without going on Kings Point, and become, the Merchant Marine Academy, without becoming an officer, which I enjoyed. To me, that was the best six and a half years of my life, being that I could pick my, wherever I want to go and, believe it, I went just about every port you can think about. Except Saudi Arabia, because somebody wised me up to that. You go on a ship, we don't have air conditioning, you're going to cook over there. Can you imagine, that the ship is all steel and you go there at 120 degrees? You could fry an egg on the steel plate, fry an egg. You better grab it real quick before it burns because those steel plates got hot.
SI: Let's talk a little bit about your first cruise, or first trip, I should say.
FA: Well, that's something. I didn't realize it, like, let me see, when I finished my training it was around September 15th. I got the first one out here, myself and all at Sheepshead Bay, and they put us up in a hotel somewhere in New York, I don't remember where, and then, about three days later, they said, "okay, here, you three guys," I think it was three of us, might have been four, you report to this union on ... 16th or 17th street and 8th Avenue," because the ships that they're going to put us on was, you know, it was run by the, not run by the union, but, it was unionized, I guess you might say. So, right then and there, we had to belong to the union, which we signed up later. We went there to the union hall and they say, "Okay, you guys, here's the ship, that's the one you're going be on, it's laying over in Perth Amboy, it's called the Winchester, the SS Winchester. ... Now here's how you get there. You go off on, you take the train to South Amboy," still to this day, I wonder why we didn't go up at Perth Amboy, it was closer, "take it to South Amboy, and then you take the Marathon bus," which that was the bus that they had at that time from South Amboy, you don't have it anymore now, it was a maroon bus, "to Sewaren and you get off at this spot," which was like, when we got there, we were saying, "where the heck is this place?" because there's nothing but big fields here and a little path. Actually, it was under the Outer Bridge Crossing, just about. It's a tanker. I said, "Oh, man, a tanker?" And when we got there it was about ... eight o'clock at night already, I guess. So we chugged up aboard and, who got us there? Being that I'm a utility man and the other guy was, I know we had two utility, myself and another guy, and the other guy, I don't know what he was, the third guy was a dish washer. Nowadays, they don't even have that. They have machines. Anyway, I think the chief steward met us there. He says, "All right, you guys," you know, "you got to get up at six in the morning and this will be your duties. I'll show you this and that," and when we got up and he says, "All right here's what you got to do. Just put some silverware on the table," the guys would get their own food and, you know, "make sure this is there, or that's there, and that's there." Oh, the other guy, I know, the other guy, he was for the Armed Guard. You had to like get their things ready, too. If you let them do it, I mean, it would be a big, you know, how men are together, become sloppy and whatnot? So, then we started doing that and the next thing you know, two days later, the ship is pulling out into the harbor, and then, we anchored, and then, I got up the next morning and I went for some air. The first thing, you know, what I see is all these other ships around us, you know, they were building up a convoy. That's something I didn't even know about. So, while the convoy took maybe two or three days to get together, and we finally, like, ... one by one, you know, because we're like in a lane, right now, just about around where the Verrazano Bridge is and we went out. They tell me there were German submarines out there. They sunk a lot of ships already. Then, one by one, we formed the convoy as we went out, and we'd have like two destroyers on the right. It must have been twenty of us at least, like two or three destroyers on each side. There would be one or two in the back and there were ... all types [of] ships now. There were Liberty ships, there were Victory ships. There was like old ships, you know, that I didn't know the name of them or, and there's also a troop carrying ships and the Commodore's ship was the lead one. It was a big troop ship and he was like the master of the whole convoy. So, we finally get underway. Oh, and the ship is all blacked out. I mean, when normally it is like you go through that door and, you know, you're outside, which were big, they call them (dogs on it?), they're like big steel doors, and they're like a bit high, so, in case the water wouldn't come in, you know, like the door was bigger, longer.
SI: Like an oblong?
FA: Right, but, then they put like here, and then, on the other side, a big blackout thing. So, at night, when you had the lights on the inside, you couldn't, you know, you wouldn't show to anyone, the light out. As a matter-of-fact, on one trip I was smoking a cigarette and one of the ships saw me smoking that cigarette and he was half a mile away. They radioed in, and then, they sent a message back, said, "Hey, you get that guy off ... [the deck]." One of the Armed Guards told me, "You can't go smoking out here." [I said], "Yes, but, I was cupping the cigarette, you know," and he says, "Yes, but, they still spotted it." So, we were on our way and that was the first miserable trip I had being seasick, but, believe it or not, that trip and the next one, I got real seasick and that was the most horrible ocean I ever saw. I mean, I saw, I mean, the ship was like, ... you know. When you got up in the morning you had a new hairdo because, you know, we'd have long hair. You didn't have to have a short haircut, like the Army and the Navy did. When you woke up in the morning, you kept like this, the ship kept going. After a while, it will put you to sleep, but, you wound up with a big wave in your hair and, like I say, well, you want me to continue? We kept going and going, and then, after about ten days, I guess, we're near the, well, now I know we're getting near the Mediterranean Sea. We must be a day out away from it, at least, and I spot these cruisers, or whatnot coming, from our left. I said "What the heck is that, a German Navy?" And then, the Navy guy told me, "No, no, those are going to take half this crew, these ships, to a different direction. You guys are, I guess, are going to go into the Mediterranean somewhere." We still don't know where we're going. So, that's what happened. I think they were British ships. There were about four of them, because those other ships probably went to France, to, don't forget the invasion started in June and here it is September, going into October, and they took half of that bunch, or more, and we go into the Mediterranean and we wound up in Torino, Italy. It's at right at the boot down in here. You know, Italy is like that and we unloaded half of the fuel there, because the tank on shore wasn't big enough to hold what we carried. We went to another little town, I always remember like some of the natives, there was a couple of older guys in a little boat and we had guards on there from Italy, you know, like we would hire guards to, even though we had our own Armed Guard, but, their job was to, you know, like to take care of the big guns ... and, believe it or not, the guy was pointing the gun at this little boat because we were loaded with fuel and he is telling them, in Italian, "to get the heck out of here." He said, "or I'm going to kill you guys," and he actually would have. Boy, they took that boat and ... . Well, they were coming to look for like cigarettes or candy or something, I guess, food. So, we unloaded there and unloaded at the other little port, which is a mile away, and we came back out and hooked up with, not as many ships, again with a small convoy, came back. What we would do really was when a tanker was empty, so, you didn't bubble around like a cork, they would load it up with water, sea water, and just before you got back to New York, they would empty that water and they had a way of cleaning it with a machine, you know, if there was a film left from the salt and whatnot, and that was that trip. Oh, I did go ashore in Italy and I'm still sixteen years old. Guys went around looking for women and whatnot, but, I don't know, there weren't that many around, not where we were in that little port. Then, like I said, we came back and we came right back to Perth Amboy and loaded up again and back out to sea, again, more bad ocean. Now, it's October something, whatever, middle of October, and it's the same scenario, you know, convoy and whatnot, but, now we were going to Liverpool. I don't know this, but, we did go there and I don't know if it was this trip or the one after, no, it wasn't the one after because I went out in the Pacific. Well, anyway, we went to Liverpool. I never saw Liverpool. We docked out about five, not even three miles. It was so foggy for almost three to four days; I never got to see the shoreline. You heard of this London fog or this and that? You know, like these creepy movies, believe it or not, that's what it was like. I couldn't see the bow of the ship from where we were in the stern. It was that foggy for four days in Liverpool, yes, we never saw it. All I saw were the pipeline going, you know, they had like a pipeline; I guess it wasn't deep enough for the tanker to go all the way in. So, we came back again, and then, I got off that ship. What we did here, though, at night, we would hear the destroyers dropping mines or depth charges. They must have picked up something. Every now and then, you could hear like, you know, I don't know, it's hard, it's like hearing a thunder far, far, away, you know, like a, you know, it was depth charges. That's about it on that one.
SI: At any of these crossings were there any U-Boat alerts?
FA: If there was, I didn't know about it. In the Pacific, there was a couple, because we had the system on those ships. I forget what they call it, that it would bring an alarm on when there was metal, you know, other than your own that it would pick up. I don't know if it was, or it probably wasn't on ours, it could have been the escorts that picked it up with their sonar and they gave us some kind of a warning. It could have been a warning by flags; you know, they used all these different flags. I got to know them all by then. Since then, I forgot half of them, Able, Baker, Charlie, that's the alphabet they used. When you wanted a pilot they would send it up, you know, H something, in order to know what it meant, you know, we're looking for a pilot to come on board, but, not on that trip. The one on the Pacific we had and I didn't have any convoy on that one. You went all the way by yourself on that trip. Do you still want me to talk about the European one? ... I don't have any more to talk about that one, but ...
MM: How long do these trips last?
FA: Oh, that's a good question. The one that went to Italy, it took us, I think, about sixteen to seventeen days, believe it or not. Because when you're in a convoy, you all have to keep the same speed and when I got up in the morning, the ship that was a half a mile behind me was only about 200 yards behind us. You know, I go look and it's, "What the heck is that ship doing so close?" Because between the bridge, you know, who is ever on the bridge, then the mate and the captain was up there a lot. He would have to let the engine room know that. "Hey, we got to pick up a little more speed or we'll lose some." That must have been a constant thing with them and, like I say, yes. What was the question you asked me something about ...
MM: About how long were these trips?
FA: Yes, the trip. ... Because we're only going like ten knots, which was, a knot is like a mile and an eighth an hour, which was around eleven, twelve miles an hour, maybe, that was about a fifteen, the one to Australia, that was a, like a twenty-two day trip, from Texas. I did that twice. There we got alerts. That system would go off. God, I thought at one time that was it, but, nothing came about. When we did that trip, it was, they told us, to take the longest way and zigzag. We hugged South America, but, you couldn't stay too close there because how do you know you didn't have Japanese people on the shore? They will see you and radio a submarine or something. That took twenty-three days. We went to Australia, Sydney. The boson stole the old man's booze that was coming on board with some more supplies. He finally got it back, but, half of it was ... he drank half of it and he kept asking me, because I was on the watch, they brought our supplies on a little raft; probably about the size of this room, by a little boat which dragged it. But, I remember putting it on this thing and it went up and the boson's up there and the Captain was saying, "Frank, you sure you didn't see that, where that booze went?" I said, "I was down here, we sent it up; what happened, I don't know." The boson drove that captain crazy. That was something.
SI: How did officers and enlisted, what was the term for enlisted or ...
FA: Seaman, I guess.
SI: How did they ...
FA: What was that question you ...
SI: How did the officers and the seamen get along?
FA: We did along pretty good, most of the ship. We had the captain, a first mate, second, third and a fourth mate. Now, I don't even think they have a fourth mate anymore.
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FA: Because you're running on diesel engines now. Then you ran on steamship. You know, you had an oilier, a wiper, a fireman. The oilier, that's all his job was to oil all the parts from the center, right down to the propeller, right down the propeller shaft to the steering mechanism, which was in the back and the wiper, I don't know what he did, wipe the oil, or something, and the fireman, he made sure that they had these big rods they stuck in there that, I guess, when the oil shot in, it made a mist out of it. They had to clean these every watch, those big things, and, you know, put a new one in, but, we got along good. Once in a while, you get a captain, but, this was after the war, like one he was real bad. ... I think he was German. I think his name was Kessler and this was after the war. We ran into another foghorn going into Bremerhaven or Bremen. We ran the ship aground and I'm at the wheel. The guy didn't speak good English, the pilot that came on board to sneak us in, and this captain, oh, man, was he tempered. Oh, you raised hell with that. ... The pilot told me, "easy right," so I went easy right. He never told me to stop. You know, usually, you go easy right, or back to amidships, or, you know, a couple of degrees to the right and hold it, or, he didn't say, so, I held it right and we must have run into the mud. We were only going like three knots, real slow. He called the chief, a captain, or a pilot, "Ah, no wonder you lost the war because you steer ships like this." They went at it for a couple of minutes and they both calmed down, but, he was nasty, real nasty captain, you know. Normally, like, I should tell you, like the watch is, also when I became an ordinary seaman, you had an eight to twelve, twelve to four, four to eight, and you did that twice in twenty-four hours and what you do when you're an ordinary seaman you steer it during the day for two hours. They won't let you steer at night. Because at night, then he would stand watch at the bow of the ship, you know, watching for other ships coming and going. He had a phone, when you call back, and we would steer for four hours. Usually, you steer two hours, you're off an hour, just sat around in the mess hall, and then, the next hour you went on ... lookout. But, we got along with all the mates. That's what we called them, mates. Every night they would go up there and shoot the stars, you know, for directions. Nowadays, they don't do that anymore. They got all these satellite, electronic, as-a-matter-of-fact, they were thinking of stopping, I wonder if they did, of teaching that, you know, with the sextant, they call it, you know, to shoot the stars and all. You don't need that no more, but, they're saying, "Hey, what if something happened to, you know, anything could happen, you know, and you might still need it." They used to have me steer a lot of ships because with the (?) union you had a lot foreigners. I sailed with guys, I told you, like from Greece, the Congo and well, he was down the engine room, from Cuba, Puerto Rico, South America, France, Norwegians. I always remember him, a big, heavy guy, could never buy a pair of shoes that didn't collapse on him. He weighed about 300 pounds and, I guess, at that time they didn't have the shoes with the good support. His feet always hurt him. I liked when I became a deck hand. Climb up, way up the top, think nothing of standing on top of the, one with a cross tree, there were three of them, the main mast, ... and the after mast, and the booms would be on there, you know, that you lower the cargo with and whatnot. You go up there a lot of times, maybe you had to grease some of those pulleys and, believe it or not, I used to do like a dance on them and the thing was, I don't think it's about this from the wall and the ship is at sea, you know ... . I had sea legs and whatnot then, I mean, I could, you know, man, that was great, I thought. Try doing it today, I'm afraid to go up on my roof, and to get up on those things the ladder was straight up. It was straight up the, you know, it wasn't like in an angle, and there was nothing but rungs and, God, it must have been what, sixty of them, or, you know, you had to go up from the deck in fifty, sixty feet or more. That's from the deck. When you're at a dock that's another fifty feet of ship, you know, from the deck down below. More questions, because I go astray sometimes.
MM: What were the sleeping arrangements like on the ship?
FA: Very good. It was a room ... about half this size and they had three bunks. A bunk here, and a bunk above, and one here, because there are three men to a lodge. Like the boson had his own room and the two maintenance guys. They had their room together. Now believe it or not, that was great. After I went on, a couple of months ago, I went on to see the [battleship] New Jersey, and saw how those guys slept. Just like that thing there, you had about six inches from the next bed and like four of them would sleep, you know, on a little, I said, "How do these guys do it?" 1100 men on that ship. Very good and we all got along good, very good.
SI: What about food and chow?
FA: Food was very good, too. Whenever they could pick up fresh fruit, like, if we went to South America, well, during the war, you had the best. I should be talking to wartime, right? Because sometimes, I'm getting on to after the war. Like, when you say food, we would stop at Panama and pick up a stack of bananas and this and that, but, during the war, yes, the government loaded that ship up real good. You had to have powdered milk and eggs; I don't know, before they got to that ship they must have not refrigerated them too well because whenever the cook cooked them, he always, like broken in a bowl. If you had two eggs, you know, because one of them might be bad and had to throw it out. This way if you put them in a frying pan you can't, you have to sterilize the frying pan, I guess, or something, but, you got meals on there, you know, very good, I'd say. You had a choice usually. You had breakfast [which] was eggs and pancakes and sometimes, instead of pancakes, it'd will be like French toast, hot cereal, or cold cereal, always had coffee. Lunch time you always had soup. I can't remember what the other one was when we went to lunch, but, at nighttime you always had like the choice of maybe a meat, like whether it would be pork chops and spaghetti, or meat loaf and Welsh Rabbit on toast, which I haven't had since I went to sea. I always like that, too. Or you could have chili and another meat. So, you always had a choice of two, you know, and then, you always had dessert with it. It was mostly canned dessert. They had oranges and apples, but, you know, after a while, I mean, they only lasted so long at that time anyway. ... Nobody ever starved or anything.
SI: Did you have Armed Guards on every ship during the war?
FA: Oh, yes.
SI: Were they regular Navy?
FA: Right, regular Navy guys.
SI: How did the Navy guys get along with the Merchant Marines?
FA: They always wonder, like say, "Hey how come you're making so much money? I'm only getting," I forgot what it was, let's say $35.00, you know, "and I'm getting a $120.00 a month." I say, "Hey, this is a civilian job." I said, "When the war is over, I still got this job, that's why. You're only here temporarily," and whatnot, you know, "what are they going to do, start giving me your wages, and then, a lot of these guys, the older guys, like disabled guys, they would quit, they wouldn't even want to stay on the ship. Then you would have nobody staying on these ships." You know, and that made sense. Because you had guys, like this guy right here, he started sailing ships in 1932. So, he was probably on that thing when the war started ten years, or nine; ten years already he was sailing. I sailed with older guys in that even. Other than that, I meant they complained, but, they didn't really. They were happy to get to port, though. They took off like ... where they went, what they did, I don't know.
SI: So they kind of stayed separate from the rest of the crew?
FA: Well, no, because our mess hall was here, and then, on a merchant ship, they made a special one when they started building. I think, they started building right after the war started, like in '42. I don't think they were building them because then we were in the war, unless they did, I don't know. Anyway, like this would be about the size of this room. They, theirs would be right over there, in that, you know, so their own separate there. But, then, eventually, we sat together and played cards together, or dominoes, mostly cards and poker and blackjack, for nickels, dimes. They didn't have no big money so you didn't play for big money, but, all in all, we got along pretty good. I got along with them. Hey, I'm only sixteen, seventeen years old. A lot of those guys were seventeen, eighteen. There were a few older guys on there, maybe in their young twenties and for their leader, it was an ensign JG. Navy Ensign JG, that's the highest rank that was on that, on those merchant ships. That's not even a full lieutenant, that's like what, low part of an officer?
SI: I think it's the lowest ranking officer, lieutenant, JG.
MM: How many ships were you on during the war?
FA: Two tankers, and then I was on a Liberty ship, and then, after that, I was on more Liberty ships and then the war was over. Oh, on the Liberty ship that I was on, ... the two tankers that I was on, I took two trips to Europe and the one trip, or the two trips to Australia, and then, when I got on the Liberty ship, the war was still on in Japan, but, I went to pick up troops. I got on a Liberty troop ship, what they call, it carried like, oh, a few hundred troops, at least three to four hundred troops. We went over to Le Havre, France and Cherbourg and we started bringing them guys back because there the war ended in Europe in 19, it ended like what, April?
SI: Yes, May, beginning of May.
FA: Beginning of May? See, I had just come back from the Pacific in April. So, in May I got on this Liberty ship to go get the, you know, the soldiers. Put a lot of fighter pilots back in there, too, and in Europe, I mean, the Pacific we brought quite a few back. Oh, I never told you about bringing those, I mean, that fuel to Italy and all that. They would load it down with airplanes. No wings on them, but, they were packed in special boxes, but, they made like special decks, you know, to whatever, I guess, we brought maybe a half a dozen, fifteen fighter Thunderbolts, or Wildcats. They called them planes. No wings on them when they brought them ashore where they took them they put them together there, but, every trip I made, even when we went on the Pacific we had, we were loaded down with Mustangs, I think they were called.
SI: So you were taking more than just fuel on every ...
FA: Right, right, right yes. I forgot all about that they loaded it down with those airplanes. They had them all cosmolined, you know, so parts wouldn't rust. I don't even think the propeller was on. No, because I think they covered them, the motor, up real good. You don't want to get salt air from sprays, especially that time of the year, when I'm telling you the sprays are breaking over the bow like you wouldn't believe. If you're standing right up there, it would wash you back a couple of hundred feet. That's how bad it, you know, that ship would dip ... . People don't realize how mean that ocean could be.
MM: So you were on board a ship during V-E Day in Europe?
FA: When the war ended in Europe, I was on a ship going to Australia because that ended in April, or you said, or May?
SI: May, yes.
FA: It ended in May? Well, if ended in May, I was back home. I got off the ship in April. I got off in San Pedro, California and took a train all the way back. It took me four days on that train to get home. It was an old steamer, it only did pick up an electric train when we got to Chicago, I think. Yes, I was home when the war ended there, in Europe, but, then I got on a Liberty ship in, I guess, it was ... in May, a troop Liberty ship and we brought a whole bunch of, you know troops back. On that Liberty ship going to Cherbourg and all, we had Army personnel that took care of the troops coming back. That's right, it was still the Army Air Force then, it wasn't the Air Force. So, that's why, I guess, the Army handled everything. Let me just see something here, one second. I want to see when I got on that ship.
SI: Could you explain that again, please? Being in the Merchant Marine wasn't like being in the Navy, or the Army where you were in for a certain time?
FA: No, no, no, you're on your own. You stayed in as long you want to, but, once you got out, like, if I got out when I was seventeen and Uncle Sam says, "Hey, okay, you come with us now," but, as long as I was with the Merchant Marines I'm being exempt because they needed people. They lost so many and lost so many ships. Some say you could stand on Sandy Hook there, at night, as the ships were leaving you could see them being blown up on the horizon. I often wondered, that they carried a lot of oil, you know, for the boilers and whatnot, you know, how long or how many years, it will stay under before it starts leaking? You know, that's a lot of fuel they carried, bunkers, they called them.
SI: So when you went to Europe, you were on the Winchester, and then, when you went to Australia?
FA: I was on the Baron Hill. That was a tanker. I think both of them or maybe not. Mobil, I think, owned the Winchester. They didn't give you names, they just gave you SS, I mean, they gave you the name, but they didn't give you the name of the company, because the government took all those, all the ships that, you know, took them over, or subsidized them, whatever they call it. They were under government control, and then, like I say, the Baron Hill was the other. Speaking of the storm, again, when I first got on that Winchester, I forgot to tell you that was my first job really. They had to come back. ... Really, really, I don't know what they hit, because I never in all the years I stayed on. The whole after part, and a lot of the Armed Guard slept down there, including me, took on a lot of water for some reason and the guy says, you know, "What is this?" "Oh, we had a big storm," and I don't know how, if a wave came from behind and, you know, it floated and it went right down the hold. There must have been two feet of water down there. The guy said, "when, you know, we had one big wave hit," or whether it leaned over so far, or maybe it happened, it only happened a couple of days out. Maybe they unloaded too much water, you know, they didn't keep enough balance, ballast, and that's what happened. You know, it leaned over too far and that was my job, oh, cleaning up down there. It even got into the big refrigerator where they kept the meats, and all that. I had to get rid of all that and clean it all out. I guess, there weren't very watertight doors on that refrigerator if it got into that.
SI: When you went to the Pacific, did you only go to Australia, and then, go right back, or on the same route?
FA: I think, I went and picked that ship up in Bayonne, yes, in Bayonne, was it? No, no, it was laying over in New York in some, why it was laying over there? There was no facility for it to load up with fuel. That's the night I got on a subway, that's not the day I got lost. I got in the subway and I wound up, I don't know where. I decided to go into town, which was dead. New York was as dead as a door nail, ten o'clock at night. Oh, you know, everybody was in the service, or were doing double-shift work and they work in factories. I got lost. Here I am, I come up, I don't know if they gave me a number, or what, but, I wound up calling the Coast Guard and I say, you know, "I don't know where my ship is," I'd forgotten, "I don't know how to get there." He says, "What's the name of it?" I told him what the name of it is. I say, "I don't know how to get there." He told me where it is, he says, "Go upstairs and go see where you're at." I looked at a street and I gave him the street, I say, "There are a couple of the stores with like Chinese names on it." I was in Chinatown. He says, "All right, and you're on this street, go over below and wait for some, whatever, B train," or whatever it was, "and, go to so and so, and then, get off and the ship is laying on that pier," let's say, 92. Boy, was I lucky because it left the next day, or we left the next day. I don't know where the hell I would have been. I probably would have went home. Anyway, we left for Texas to load up with fuel. It was Port Arthur, Texas, I remember. We loaded up with fuel; it took about three or four days to load that thing up. In those days, what do they have, a pipe about that big, you're talking 50,000 barrels and you have to move, not a pipe, a hose, you have to move it from one side and then, I think, you had to turn the ship around and hook it on the other side, and then, hook it to, you know, like a couple of different spots because, I think, it was in compartments. It wasn't like one big swimming pool. The ship isn't made that way, probably roll over or something. Believe it or not, the front was up and the ship was down, like this, on a tanker and when they loaded that ship up with fuel, you're only like, I don't know, I think, the water line was like no more than about eight foot, you know, even though you were back there another ten foot higher. I always remember flying fish would come on and people don't believe me. They said, "Flying fish? There's no such thing." Yes, there is. They would line up on the deck; they were about that long, with little wings on. So, we loaded up and here we are going in, two days later, or a day, whatever it took to get into Panama. Got to wait to get through the Canal. Now we're loaded with high octane fuel and there is two big troops ships loaded with troops and those guys are going either to Iwo Jima, or somewhere, wherever that big battle they had, which I went past it going to Australia. Wait a minute, I'm going to take that back. That was the second trip I was on it. The first trip, we're waiting, and, I think, that was the two troops ships that were there and we went through the Canal, which ... I think it's about fifty miles across, it took almost a day, or eight hours, and we go to, you know, all that zigzagging, it took twenty-two days, or so, to Australia. We went to Sydney, where the bosons robbed the man's booze, the old man's booze, and then, we unloaded some there. We went to Newcastle, unloaded some there, and we went to Brisbane, I think it was. Because on the next trip, we came back through the Canal, we went to Aruba and loaded up with fuel there and that was the clearest water I ever did see. Sorry, not Aruba, Curacao, which is right next to Aruba. You could see right down to the bottom of the ocean, it was fifty feet. You're looking through a glass, you could see the shells down there, and we loaded up, came back in the Canal, for another twenty-three day trip, and that's when, I think, the ship, ...you know, had high octane fuel. We went past where those two troop ships had gone already, you know, to fight the war over there with the Japanese, and going through the Canal we picked up, I think, they were Marines, to guard, you know, we only had a couple in the front, couple in the back. They don't want that ship blown up in the Canal. That would have been the end. Who the heck knows? If you blew one of them locks up, who the hell knows when you're going to fix that thing again because those are big gigantic doors, ... you know, lock and shut? That's why I wonder how they brought that New Jersey through there? They said there was a foot clearance, but, they were pulling that with a big tugboat. No, they couldn't fit the tugboat and that New Jersey in the same lock. It's not that big. I've often wondered how they did that because it was pulling it by a big anchor chain on a cable. They had that sag in there so it didn't go like, you know, when they hit the ocean, the sag in there would give it like a spring action. I'm off the track. I like talking about boats, ships ...
SI: It sounds like you really adapted well after the first trip.
FA: Oh, yes. The old seasickness was just about gone. After that North Atlantic, I told you about the graveyard of, I forget, if it's the English Channel or the North Sea, where the Germans, the water must only been one hundred feet deep there, because we had to maneuver between sunken Liberty ships. There must have been thirty of them sunk there. All you see is the cross tree, the upper part, you didn't see the deck. It's all about half of the mast. They were all over the place. By now they must have cleared them all out. We had to maneuver between them. You couldn't go too far out because, I think, the Channel there, you know, kind of like and you're loaded down with cargo, and that was down with fuel. Our ship went down, when we're loaded down with, that tanker it went down like forty-eight feet. So, I think, they called, that thing was shallow, must be a Channel that isn't that deep, but, I guess, it was deep enough for a submarine, wherever he was, to pick them off like flies, or I don't think they were hit by airplanes, had to be torpedoes. We called them fish. Oh, that was something, all that good cargo down there and ammunition. There was one other run I didn't want to get on. Well, most of these runs they didn't tell you where you're going during the war. They didn't, period. Those guys that ran that Murmansk run was horrible, very, very horrible. They torpedoed them left and right there and the ships wouldn't stop to pick up, you know, survivors. You stopped for one of them, you got a torpedo yourself, and besides, they froze to death, if it was winter. No, I got used to that seasickness once I went into the Pacific. But, I'll tell you, when you're out there in the middle, it's like, forever. Like I say, I left Texas, through the Panama, I got on that ship about the 15th of December, I celebrated my Christmas three days out of the Panama Canal in the Pacific Ocean, and then, I was on my way for another, what eighteen, nineteen days, before I got to Australia and, I guess, I went to Curacao, back through the Canal. We went to Melbourne. Unloaded everything at Melbourne, Australia. No men there, or nothing. The few women there were working and I saw very little kids even. We docked right by that bridge in the first trip in Sydney, you know, the famous bridge there, and there was a ferry right close that ran across. Me and my buddy took a ride across on that ferry at night when we were off, and then, came back. We used to see girls that were docked right near that ferry, girls going to work in the morning. "Hey, how are you doing," you know, try to make out with them, but forget it. You're up on a ship there and they're headed home from work on a boat, they're on a ferryboat.
MM: How many ships were you on in the Pacific?
FA: During the war, just that one, yes, just that one that made two trips.
SI: Are you with a different crew each time?
FA: No. Well, in Europe, you can get off when you wanted. So, a couple of guys who wanted to got off and said, "The heck with this trip." I would already have been on it before they could get off. You get off whenever you wanted. In the Pacific one, you didn't because in the first trip you came back and I went to Curacao, where they're going to unload you? You're in a foreign country, or foreign island, or whatever; you can't get off there. When we come back to San Pedro about eighty percent of the crew got off.
SI: Before the war you hadn't traveled much had you?
FA: No, I hadn't.
SI: All of a sudden, you're thrown in with a crew of various ages, from various countries, and then, you're going all over the world, what was that experience like?
FA: I got to get used to the most of them. To some that spoke broken English and all, you'll manage to, you know, get to know each other. You know what he was saying, or I was saying, or you got to understand each other. We got along pretty good. Though everybody had their own thing to do and for pastime, like I say, you played cards, or dominoes, or some of them even had a Ping Pong table, you know, on board. Believe it or not, we only had one radio and that was in, I don't think they allowed you to bring a radio on. No radio, no cameras, nothing. The only radio we had was a special radio that was in the officers' mess hall, which was, it's about the size of this room, too, maybe not as wide, and they had it on loud enough for, you could hear it. The, what's his name, would give us some news every now and then, the radio operator, you know, he had his own; they still use that, believe it or not, the ticker tape, Morse code, yes. So, he gave us some news that he heard. You know, he had it typed or, you know, on a piece of paper. Crew was very good, no matter who they were. ...
MM: Were you able to develop friendships with these men?
FA: Oh, yes, yes, especially guys that was on your watch. Because when you're on, let's say, I was on an eight to twelve watch, the first two hours, I might steer the ship, or be the helmsman, and the next two hours I would work on the ship doing, hey, if there's something needed painting, or something needed to be fixed, or the ropes or, you know, you had to make new ropes, you'd splice them, or ... just oddball things, nothing special. You didn't kill yourself or nothing. Where there were some rust coming here, scrape and put this red lead on it, and then, tomorrow put some more gray on it, because everything was gray, dark gray, and then, none of our ships, they never camouflage them as far as I know. The Navy did theirs, but we had all gray. Navy ships would have like a gray and a black, and from a distance you don't know which way it was going, and then at night, when my eight to twelve came, I would have two hour, I think, let me see, I had one hour, you know, I had a two hour. Yes, it was two hour at the wheel, the helm, and one hour I was off, and then, one hour on lookout, and then, the one hour I was off, and one hour I was lookout the other AB would take over. It's funny, though, I was talking to a guy on this New Jersey and he was, I don't know if I said this before, he was telling me, you know, all you had was a quartermaster, who laid out the chart, and do this and that and I was thinking, you know, Captain, or whatever his name was on the New Jersey, I says, "You know, on a merchant ship, a quartermaster, he was the guy that was at the wheel." He says, "Oh, yes, that's probably the problem." Because that's what we called it, when I was at the union hall, they would say, "Hey, we need a quartermaster for this ship," and the guy who wanted to just do that, that's all he did. He only steered the ship, he didn't do nothing else. He would steer it and in half hour someone would give him a break. An AB, able bodied seaman like me, and then, he'd be gone for the other hour and a half, but, you would look at that little gyro; well, I had good eyes then, now, I probably will go blindfolded. That was a repeater; the main gyro was in a room, which was like half of the size of this table. Every now and then, that would go on a fritz, then you went by the magneto one, which was a horrible. I don't know how them guys did it in the old days, and it had these two big iron balls on it and the thing was constantly moving. You know, if you're five degrees off, you barely turn and the thing would go all the way over, then come back again. It would like do a dance and they had a way, in the back, of seeing, like how you're steering. They had like ... what do you call it; it shows it on paper, yes, like a graph on there. You know, it shows you exactly how you're going, because every now and then, it may well tell us like who was doing the best steering, you know, who had the most, and later on, a lot of the ships had the automatic thing, but, they only use that when you're way out at sea. They don't use that in port.
MM: Did you keep in contact with any of the people you served with after the war?
FA: No, because I did make good friends, like from Brooklyn, a guy from South Jersey. They're about my age, and all that, and we went out together a lot on, you know, when we came to ports and whatnot. But, then I kept sailing after the war, until 1950 when the Korean War broke out. You know, I would have been maybe still there until I retired, had it not been for the Korean War. Although, I had many nights on lookout, when you're at the bow of the ship and you're out in the middle of an ocean, you're saying, "Gee, do I want to do this all my life? Maybe I want to get married or something," you know. The stars were the most beautiful out in the ocean. Everything was so perfectly clear. You don't have no haze, no lights, no trees, or whatnot, buildings, shooting stars would be going by and all like, real beautiful. Oh, you know, what I forgot to tell you? On that one trip I was going to, we went to Cherbourg, I'm on a four to eight watch, and there, at about six in the morning, I looked up ahead, he must be what looks like a half a mile. He must have been a mile away because a mile on the ocean is nothing. It's like everything is closer. I'm looking and I'm seeing this big whale coming across. First, I thought it was a submarine, and I am off there by myself, the mate's down below because I'm steering from the high, there's two parts you can steer, way up on the top, that's where we used to steer, the vision was better because down below was more, in case you're attacked, there's more like that's not armor-plated, but, it was whatever they used to stop bullets and whatnot. So, I'm up there by myself and I'm saying, "Wow, he's coming across the bow, if I timed this right, maybe I could have hit him." So, closer and closer, finally, I could see he's going to probably get ahead of me, so I'm angling a little to the left, I didn't want to go too far over, first thing you know, somebody is going to say, "Where the hell are you steering the ship?" But, just as I did that, he sensed it, that whale, and he made one big dive, have you ever see that thing on TV, with his tail? He must have tail as big as this room, he took a dive and made one big sound and I'm listening, I said, "Maybe I can still hit him." I never did. He took a dive and must have went 500 feet down. Oh, Christ, it was something. Then I got back on course, and that was the end of the whale tale. He was asleep, though, but, they sense, they could hear the propeller, eventually, but, from a mile away, I guess, you didn't think much of it, you know. All right.
SI: Was there any kind of discipline or protocol, maybe that's the best word, problems?
FA: Yes, like if somebody got out of line? Well, they did have a small brig on there that they can lock you up in. I don't think it was really a brig, but, a room where they could, which never happened on any of the ships I was on. As far as the crew, you know, the merchant guys, if you like came back late, like whenever you were docked, they would dock you two days pay and if you missed the watch, like even though you were in port, you still had to stand your watch. You know, somebody had to keep, take rounds of the ship so that somebody didn't, we had big problems with stowaways. Big problem, especially in South America and Africa and you also had to keep the lines because the tide, you know, up and down. The biggest tide drop I saw was like twenty feet. I figured we were in South America and that's where I saw the biggest rats, too. I thought they were dogs. That's because they unloaded grain there and, I guess, they fatten up on it. That's the discipline that they had, you know. You missed that watch and all that, hey, you lose two days pay. Oh, and we also got what they call a mine bonus. When we sailed into like the Mediterranean, or the North Sea and all, once you got so far into the Atlantic. Like you wouldn't get it around New York because they didn't figure the Germans were dropping mines around and, you know, like $5.00 a day extra for that, which wasn't a lot really. Then it was a lot, you know, you get a mine bonus, but, hey, if you're out there for going on twenty-four days, say twenty-four times five is ... $120.00. Hey, that was pretty good, $120.00 in a month. What were you making? I'm only making about eighty cents an hour, but, then you got all your meals for free and the clothes you had to buy your own because the uniform you trained with it at Sheepshead Bay. I wore it for a while on the one, maybe the two trips. Then after that I got regular civilian clothes. You didn't have to wear that uniform. That was just strictly for training and when you got on the ship, because you're a civilian really, but, I guess, you had to wear it at Sheepshead Bay so they could distinguish you from, you know, from some other stranger.
SI: There was no saluting of officers or that sort of thing?
FA: No, I think, wait a minute, I think we did. I can't remember that we did. I think we did because they were Coast Guards. Captain (Bebee?) was in charge at Sheepsheads Bay, at least in my barracks. He might have been in charge of the whole. That one barracks that I trained in is still there. Right now, the rest of it is all, well, that is, too, they tore the rest down and it's all King's Borough College now. I took a ride there about five, six years ago. King's Borough College, same gate, same old subway is there that I used to get on where I once got lost for seven hours in New York riding subways. I got off at noon and I didn't find my way back to where I was going home until seven o'clock that night. I got on one subway, another, another, and it should have taken me fifteen minutes from Brooklyn to get across it at that stop, ten minutes at that stop in New York, riding, riding, riding, my God.
SI: Were you able to stay in touch with your family during the war?
FA: Well, it was the same as the service. You wrote letters to a certain address they gave you like, you know, it would be, I guess, it's a government address, like for where all the government mail goes to. ... It would be like, I guess, a big mailbox in New York and they would sort it out and, believe it or not, they blotted out stuff that you wrote in there. They opened it up and, you know, blocked out the parts that, if you told them I was in the, even though you were there and you left, because the enemy would say, "Hey, they're going to go back there," they blocked it out, like you say you went to Australia, or, I forgot if my mother thought I drowned. I didn't think I wrote when I went to Italy. I don't think there was any place you could drop that mail off then. I don't think, it's been, you know, fifty-two years ago when I stopped sailing. It's more than that when I first started in, 1944, '44 to '94 almost fifty-eight years ago from my first trip.
MM: After the war was over, did you go home for any period of time?
FA: No. After every trip I usually took, not every trip, if I stayed on a ship, well, the ship could come into New York and load up in four, five days and back out, it's gone. But, as far as when I decided to get off the ship, I usually took about thirty days off. You know, like when I came back from the Pacific. Don't forget, I was gone from December the 15th to April the 15th or April 24th. I mean, that's over four months, you know, and like I say, after that trip almost everybody got of that ship. They all wanted to rest. ...
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE--------------------------------------
SI: This continues an interview with Mr. Frank Ambrosy on October 30, 2002 in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Shaun Illingworth and ...
MM: Mark Miller.
SI: Mr. Ambrosy, could you tell us a little bit about your last trip with the Merchant Marines?
FA: Sure. Let's see, my last trip. I signed on, believe it or not, guess what the name of that ship was? The Garden State. Isn't that something? And it turns out to be my last trip. Well, I signed on and it was a C-3 type ship. What they call a more modern, a little bit bigger, and it must have only been about a year old. We loaded up in New York, we fully loaded up in New York with cargo, I don't know whatever it was, I don't know. They're mostly in boxes, and whatnot, and, yes, you could care less what you were carrying. During the war, I mean, you know, you did. Even then you don't even know what kind of ammunition you had. Well, anyway, we loaded up in New York and now our ship is no longer painted, you know, like wartime colors. They painted the regular colors of the company and the company, God, I forgot the name of it. ... During the war, a lot of companies came into being, you know, like, how do I say that, like in the smaller, like little companies, which later on were absorbed by the bigger companies, which would be like Moore McCormick, the Grace Line, American Export Line. I don't remember what this little company was. It has been so long ago. Anyway, we left and went through the Panama Canal again and headed for China. Now, was it Shanghai? I'm pretty sure it was Shanghai.
SI: Wasn't China communist by then? Were you headed to mainland China, or was it like Taiwan?
FA: No, no, wait a minute. No, because previously, like during World War II, I picked up on one of the, you know, after the war, like late 1945, or was it '46, on one of the Liberty ships. You guys don't want to know about that, before and after the war. I went on a Liberty ship; I brought troops home from Shanghai and Hong Kong, but, because I don't know whatever happened when, I'm pretty sure it was Shanghai. I know I went to Japan, too, a couple of times. I hope I'm not getting the books mixed [up] because I did go to Yokohama and Kobe, Japan, but, we unloaded there, whatever it was, and then we came back to Seattle, Washington. Now, the war with Korea already started. When did the Korea [war start?] It started in '51, but, what month, do you remember?
SI: Yes, June 25, 1950.
FA: Started in June? Right, and I'm on this ship. So, we come back to Seattle, Washington and there's a letter waiting for me for Uncle Sam saying, "You are no longer exempt from armed forces. You have to report to your local draft board." "Oh," I'm saying, "man, this is beat," and then, from Seattle, the ship went to Tacoma, Washington and on the way this plane, I guess, this guy did it for a living, he took a picture of our ship and, later on, when we got to Tacoma, he came on board and said, "You guys want to [buy a picture], you know, for three bucks?" You know, I bought one of them from him and I could tell where I was at that time on that ship. Well, anyway, when I got this letter I talked to the first mate and the captain. I say, "Look, where is this ship going after Tacoma?" He says, "Well, we're going to go to New Orleans and load up over there, and then, we're going to go," I forgot where they were going to go. I say, "Look, I got this letter to go in the Army," I mean, not the Army, but, "the service. Let me go with you guys to New Orleans, and then, I'll sign off there," and, you know. Well, from Tacoma to get to New Orleans, God, that's a good eight days, I think it took us, or more, because we stayed in Tacoma, we may have picked up some stuff there and brought it. So, anyway, I managed to stay on that ship for another ten or twelve days, you know, going through the Canal again, and then, I wound up in New Orleans. That's where I saw the Mississippi River and that was a big surprise. That thing had logs floating in it, trees, and, like, red mud. Oh, speaking of when we were in China, when they call it the Yellow Sea, that is the Yellow Sea, it's like that. It is yellow. I don't know if it came from underground water, out of a volcanic action, or what. They got a reason they call it that. So, anyway, we wound up in New Orleans and I signed off that ship there. Then I took the train back home, and then, a few days later, I guess, it was two days later, ... I forgot where the draft board was, Perth Amboy, I think. I say, you know, "I've been serving, you know, during the World War II and it is now you guys ask me to join the service." "Oh," they ... says, "You know you've been in the Merchant Marines for six and a half years, why don't you join the Navy?" I say, "Navy, that means I got to stay in there for three years." That's how it was then. If you join the Navy, that's three years. If you went in the Army, it was only two years. I say, "Ah, let me try something different. Let me try the Army." Which was stupid of me, I should have joined the Coast Guard. They would have taken me, but, I'm still like twenty-two years old now, not too smart yet. So, I joined, not joined, I was drafted into the Army and they sent me to Fort Dix for my basic and after basic, my home base, guess where it was? Camp Kilmer. We opened it up because they had shut it after World War II and they kept like a little skeleton crew there. As-a-matter-of-fact, the Army had still got some Army, Army reserves, still got something over there and the place was a mess. We had to clean barracks out and all that. We had a whole company that had come there and after a while the place was loaded with soldiers and Air Force people. So that was my home base and little by little, believe it or not, they are sending guys to Korea from my outfit. My outfit was the 373 Transportation Corps and I said, "Oh, boy, I'm gonna be next. My name begins with A and every time there's something with an A, it's me," you know, they always went alphabetically. I always used to complain, "Why don't you start the other way, from Z and come back? Or in the middle and go the other way." I don't know, so little by little, half of my outfit went to Korea and we lost quite a few guys. Guys I got familiar with, you know, and luckily I got sent to Labrador. We took a little ship, myself, and before I went to Labrador, I was driving for the General at the camp. He was a one star general, General Wickam, and I remember taking him to see a small plane take off from Newark as a forth runners of Labrador. They were sending us there because the Russians, and whatnot, had this big thing going and they set up their Dew Line. They want to build bases up there, a defense line, I think that's what it was, the Dew Line and they were building bases up there and whatnot. So, when I got on this ship, or prior to that, I picked up some of these guys and took them to the airport and, boy, that plane had a big storm, a snow storm, and he said, "I never parachuted before, bailed out, and they made it all right because they hit soft snow, the twenty-two of them." Anyway, we wound up going into Labrador; I think it was Goose Bay, Labrador. What they did is took a bulldozer or two and plowed about a million pine trees down and we lived in these tents. Now, you only could live there in tents, like from April, to maybe, September. Well, that's all I stayed. Because when winter set in up there, I mean, it was winter. During the summer, we still had April, May, and June; we still had like, there's like six could sleep in these tents, six or eight. They were big tents, bunks on both sides, you know, only ground level and they had two pot stoves, with a drum on each side feeding kerosene, that gave you a little heat and you had to live with that and a bunch of pine beetles ... like big roaches. I had to sleep with a net, otherwise, they came in bed with you. They used to come, if you left the light on, they come like where the chimney was hanging from the top, I don't know if they flew, and then, came down. So, I stayed there until September after all my training in Camp Kilmer and whatnot and, oh, I did go before I went to Labrador, I did go to Virginia for a few months, where they were loading stuff to take to Labrador. I spent a few months in Virginia, Newport News, Virginia. I met my cousin there. He was on the carrier, the Coral Sea. He happened to be there at that time, so, I got to see him there a few days and stayed there until September. When I got back in late September, they discharged me. Then I'm thinking, "Hey," you know, "now what am I gonna do? Do I go back to sea?" Oh, in the meantime, I had gotten married while I was in the Army. I got married. I met this girl just before I got in the Army. I met this girl in Highland Park at a dance and we married, it didn't last long. We got married in April of 1951 and by the time I got back, we're on our way getting divorced. I never saw that girl again from that day. I remarried since then. I've been married now for forty-five, forty-six years to a girl from Rochester, New York. Oh, as far as going to work? I'm saying, "Do I go back to sea?" Well, a buddy of mine, who was older than me, he was an electrician at Camp Kilmer. He says, "Let me see if I can get my electricians, I'll go to sea with you." He was electrician and we both went. Oh, I lost my seaman's paper, my cards, so, I went to get a new one there, which I never did pick up. He went and took the test. I took the, whatever, formalities they wanted and they says, "Okay, come back in a couple of days, we'll it ready for you." He flunked the test. They gave him something simple about an AC fan, the DC and he didn't know what they were talking about. Then I came back and I'm talking to another buddy of mine, "Hey, what should I do?" I say, "What kind of a job?" He's looking in the paper, they were hiring at Western Electric and Western Electric actually was AT&T owned. So, I went. I first went to New Brunswick here because they had a GI Bill thing. Being that I was in the Army, in the Merchant Marines you got nothing, until recently. I went to the telephone company, I says, you know, "I would like to sign up," you know, "you guys are hiring under the GI Bill." Because I would get paid from the phone company and the GI Bill would pay me so much for being taught, which the phone company says you could keep. You wouldn't, but, they say, "Oh, you got to go to Newark to take this test and all," and there's this other guy from Western Electric right next, to whom I'm talking, he says, "Oh, go to Perth Amboy, we're hiring." I say, "Oh, great, I don't want to go to Newark." He hires me and where do I wind up in? Newark, 95 Williams Street, miserable drive down Route One from Woodbridge, but, that became, like I say, when they split, I became AT&T, and then, I became, Lucent. I worked for them for forty-one years. I retired almost ten years ago. I worked for them from 1952 after I got out, on October 22nd of 1952, until March. I had a triple bypass, March of 1993, forty-one years ago, but I still love the sea. That was my best, my best six and a half years because, I guess, I was young. I could pick my spots, you know, if I wanted to go. Here are some of the places I went to; you start off with Italy, Liverpool, which I never saw, London a couple of time, Falmouth, England, Plymouth, England. After the war, I went to Bremerhaven, Germany, Antwerp, Belgium, Holland, Belgium a couple of times. I went to Le Havre, France, Cherbourg, France. I went to Spain. The prettiest girls you ever did see are in Spain. I mean, they are beautiful. When we went ashore, I mean, you always had buddy you went ashore with, we're looking. "Aren't there any ugly girls here?" Beautiful girls. I met one there and stayed for a while. Spain, then from Spain I went to, it was the time Eva Peron was in power in Argentina. That's where I went on another big C-3. We go there; they got strange rules over there. The seamen went there, they would work like from eight to eleven, take their siesta come back at three, and work two more hours. That happened for two or three days, then they went on strike for thirty days. I guess, Evita and Peron were in power then. For thirty days they were on strike. I stayed there for almost two months. They finally ended, the strike was, over and they unloaded the ship. Then I was in Brazil and another long run was South Africa. I went to Cape Town, then I went around to, oh, there were two other ports. You always knew you're coming to Cape Town, the Table top Mountain (—it's called Table Mnt), big, flat mountain like that; almost looks like an aircraft carrier. Cape Town Barry was one and I forget the other two places. That's where I saw one guy, a stowaway, he was gonna be. He didn't realize the holds were in levels and he went down there in the dark and he fell down, killed himself, and then, there was an Alcoa ship, parked next to us on the second trip, I came on. This guy must have got drunk. He said, "I can dive off that cross tree into the water." Well, he went and tried it, but, he hit the gunnels, the side of the ship and that killed him and I went to that, that was a twenty-three day trip from New York, on a Victory ship, and the company there was called the ... American South African Line. Whether it is still in existence I don't know, and then, I came back and went on the Grace Line. Now here I am on the east side of South America and, oh, they lower a boat there, a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean. I think it was the chief steward, an old guy. He had all kinds of sickness, sugar, whatnot. The seas are calm until you got in them. Being that I was a lifeboat experienced guy, and some of my other crew guys, we lowered the boat because they had a, I think, they had penicillin then and that's what he needed, but, once you got on the ocean, oh, them waves are like, that boat was, you know, kind of like rocking around. Well, anyway, we got his medicine and came back on. Anyway, the Grace Line strictly handled the West Coast of South America. I made about three trips there through the Panama Canal. We would hit, what was the first country, Ecuador? Colombia, Ecuador, Chili and Peru, Peru and Chili. We unloaded different stuff there. There's one place, I don't know, if it's Peru or (Anthroplogasta?), you know, we always meet a girl, in every port, if you're a sailor, especially a merchant seaman. I says, "Look, how dry it's here," to this girl I said, "Gee, when did it rain last?" And it's right near the Equator, I guess. "It rained," she said, "Oh, three years ago." I said, "Where do you get the water from." They pump it like from way in the back, in the mountains somewhere. They get it in that way. I forget which country it was, we would pick up these big copper ingots and every time we got there, I got this itch. Because in the air, wherever they put these ingots together, or melt them, or whatever, or dig them up, they say, in the air, it's like a fine, fine copper dust floating, you know, and, I guess, it gets in your pores. You know, I guess, even if you look through a microscope maybe you'd see that they're like kind of sharp or something. I know, because once I, you know, showered for maybe five, six, seven times when we left there, then I was okay, but, when I hit those ports. Then I went to Japan twice. The first time I went there was when we had all the gray painted from our ship to go to the colors of, what company was that? American Export Line maybe? The Japanese painted it front, back, and whatnot and I went to Kobe, Japan, Yokohama, and somewhere else, and, well, before that I went, I told you before, I went to Shanghai and Hong Kong and brought those troops back, and then, on the last trip, on the Garden State, I'm almost sure it was Shanghai, I went back to. On one of our ships we had a sampan; they sleep out there and live out in those things. They fish, sleep and what not, and we hit one. It wasn't on my watch. I remember one of these, one of the able bodied seaman said, "Goddamit," he says, "the old man went right through that boat and never even stopped." I said, "Man, you know, how would you look for them at night?" All we got is these little spot lights. How are you going to pick them up, or wherever they are, how many was on there or what? But, they were all over like flies, you know, and they're right on those shipping lanes and whatnot. It was a shame. I hate to see that and it also happened, not on my watch, it was in the North Sea, a small boat. When I got up in the morning, I see these strange people on a boat. I said, "Who are these, you know, these women, or whatnot. Because the captain brought them upstairs while there's one, too, downstairs. He says, "You didn't hear anything? The guys hit a mine last night. That little boat hit a mine." I don't know whether it was a floating one or what, because there was an awful lot of floating mines. I don't think the Germans, or whoever, did not even anchor them to something, they just let them, or maybe the storm broke them loose or something. They stayed on for a day, and then, somebody came and picked them off and that was about all the places I went to. A lot of them I repeated. Spain was the greatest. France was good. Italy, oh, I went to Italy quite a few times. Barcelona on the other side of Spain, I went. Italy, I had Naples, Genoa. We brought a load of coals on one of those ships. Mostly wheat we we're bringing right after the war. Some of the wheat we would load up, all depends on where were going. We would load it up loose; you know, you just pour it in the holes. Or if we were going to a place where they had no way to pull it out, you know, they suck it, but, they would bring it in bags, you know, big 100 pound bags and load it up. We brought a load of coal to a place called (Shevidevecke?) it was on the west side of Italy, oh, Trieste, I went. I went to Yugoslavia, too, a place called (Splatt?). That might have been my first trip right after the war with Europe. Not my first trip, no, it wasn't because the first trip ... was when I brought the troops back. With the first trips in there and they were telling us, like where we docked, there was these trees, hanging there and we're talking to them, people are nuts over there a little bit, because they took a shot at one of my guys coming back or one of our sailors. He thought he was a crook or something. Well, anyway, this town was where the Germans hung a lot of collaborators, or whatever they called them. They hung them right up the tree, you know. It will give you the creeps. I always remember a big hill where we docked and I like this one guy, he was Ethiopian, speaking of the guy, but, he spoke good English. He must have been in this country a while. He worked in the engine room. I forgot what his name was, I said, "Hey, and here I am, like what now, eighteen, nineteen when I went to Yugoslavia, had to be about nineteen. There was this big hill. I was in the mood to climb it. You know, it overlooked the ship. We didn't have no cameras, but, it would have been a nice view. He said, "No, there might [be] snakes or whatnot up there, so, I don't want to go up there." I never did go up then. I guess, that's about it. Got an honorable discharge from the Army and, what's his name, stayed in New Jersey, sent me an honorable discharge for being in the Merchant Marines and serving. I went out to Menlo Park in November ... , two years ago, when they had that memorial, no it wasn't two years, last year, when they had that memorial for and they had the Merchant Marine
SI: They had it in Menlo Park?
FA: Yes, in Menlo Park. They had one for the Merchant Marine, I was glad and East Brunswick has got one, too. We didn't get any recognition at all. And then, two years ago in November, and I got a big photo of this, two years ago in November, right around Veterans' Day when they decided to give everybody that didn't graduate high school, you know, like an honorary diploma. We had to go to the war memorial, it's eighty of us from all over the State of New Jersey. There was more than that, but, a lot of guys didn't come, but, they got them later and here's my suit. I got to show you this. I got a big picture of this, too. Let's see, what we got here, my friend. There's the suit I went, I dressed, I tried to look like a sailor. Here's the diploma I got. There, I am getting my diploma. Guess who signed that? The only one that signed it for me. Right here, I'm asking her, I say, "After the ceremonies are done, will you autograph mine?" She said, "Sure" but, after it was all over, like an hour later, she was walking out, I say, "Governor, you know, you promised you'd sign this." Yes, I told her to sign it right there and I was the only one who got her autograph. As-a-matter-of-fact, one of her chiefs says, "Oh, you know, Mrs. Whitman, the Governor is not here to be signing autographs." Even a reporter came to me because we were all sitting in a certain order. I was the fifth one to be called. They would call our name and what school we went to, which was the Perth Amboy Vocational Tech School, which now is not there no more, they have a new one, and, you know, what I served and there was about five or six other Merchant Marine guys there. So, like I say, a lot of information for you guys if you want these? It's in here where you can get hold of somebody. If you want to go beyond, even got nice pictures of these guys, the ceremonies they go to or what not and this you got to read the story about this guy. You want to turn that off for a minute, just read this. The only other two things is like you asked about my brothers, the three of us were in World War II, plus I was in the Korean War, and my other three brothers was in. Yes, because there are six of us. The other three were in the Korean War and, actually, one went over there and fought. He used to bring the prisoners back from, (Bobby?); he's now in a home over here. He's not well and brother, Howie, which passed away, is the youngest, and my brother, Eddie, was also, but, they wound up going over into Germany, but, Bobby was the one. Oh, he was a little bit nutty, too. He'd tell me a story where he'd stop, there was, like, a something like a shell casing, or something, like that or anyway, the guy that he's with, he is saying, "Bob, don't take that ( byoye?) God it could be a booby trap." "No, nothing wrong with it, no." He was like one of them guys. "All right, to heck with this," [and] he threw it over the cliff. He was walking away and "boom," it blew up. It could have been set, I mean, timed, you know, okay, "bring it in the truck and we'll get all of you." You never know the way it sets some of these things. I saw a mine floating off the Hawaiian [Islands]; I never did stop at Hawaii. I saw it, but, I never, and we missed that mine by about a couple of hundred yards. Around Hawaii, I can't imagine where, it might have been our own, you know, it might have got away, because they no doubt would have put mines along so, you know, they couldn't get into the channel or the inlet or whatever that was there.
SI: Did you ever see any enemy aircraft or was that ever a problem?
FA: No, but, like I say, always under, you know, you always, like you are feeling you'll be attacked anytime. We were afraid more of those mines up in the North Sea after you saw them sunken ships and you're carrying that high fuel. What does it take? For one torpedo or one mine and that's all I can say, a floating bomb. That's all the thing was. You could smell the fumes. You know they ventilate some, you know, I mean, they had to and you had to load that up with a certain amount because they have on the side of the ship, they call a (plenso?) because you went from the salt water to fresh water in the Panama Canal. That ship will go down another couple of feet. You don't dare, on any ship, you know, you have to stay with that specification. Yes, that's about all I guess for now. Okay, you guys, Shaun and Mark, I should know Mark, with my son; he works at Robert Wood [Johnson University Hospital] here. Yes, he's into MRI. My daughter graduated here from Rutgers.
SI: Were you involved in the efforts in raising awareness for the Merchant Marines to get veteran status and to get benefits and rights and all that?
FA: Well, if they send me something, and all that, you know, like the first thing I got when they came out with the lighthouse, that's my favorite, the lighthouse. I got plates like that. Then they sent me, says, "Hey, you know, we got a Merchant Marine plate thing that the State will give, you know." I say, "What are you going to do? Put a plate on top of a plate?" I said, "I'd rather keep the lighthouse." Yes, I like that better. I got a whole bunch of lighthouses at home, calendars with the Lighthouses on them and whatnot. That was my favorite, always. You know, when you're coming into port it was good to see that, if you were gone for months. You know, they flash at a certain, then you know, "oh, yes, that's going to be Port Arthur, two flashes and a short; I mean two longs and a short." That's how they worked, different sequence, then you know that you're at the right place. If you're the navigator, which all the mates were, and you saw something different, you're in trouble and that happened to somebody. He was supposed to go to France; I think, he wound up in Portugal. Oh, my God, we're a thousand miles out of the way.
SI: Okay, thank you.
FA: All right.
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Reviewed by Adam Pollak 12/1/04
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 12/26/04
Reviewed by Gary Ambrosy 6/24/11