Many of my ancestors, including my father, were merchant seamen. Every Veteran’s Day, I stand with a camera recording memorial events at which not a word is said about the mariners who gave up their lives serving their country. In World War Two, 1 in 26 American seaman serving lost their lives. Over 1,500 vessels sank in the conflict. My father served on two of them and survived.
Two memories come down in my family regarding those sinkings. The first are memories I have of the sinking of a tanker. One afternoon, for whatever reason, my dad decided to tell me ( about ten at the time) how to survive the sinking of a tanker, it’s fires, inflammable oil slicks, and especially the sight of flames on the water — also, the concussion of the explosions through the water. He never spoke of it again. I, however, will forever recall these whenever I watch fireworks on the water.
The second memory came to me through my sister. While getting ready for Dad’s funeral, my sister and I went shopping for dinner supplies. While in the frozen foods aisle, my sister pointed to the bags of succotash in the freezer. “Louis, do you know why we never had succotash growing up? It was because that’s what “Cookie” had just served the crew with dinner when Daddy’s second ship was torpedoed.”
Here are the words of the 23rd Psalm – Mariners Version
The Lord is my pilot. I shall not drift.
He lighteth me across the dark waters;
He steereth me in the deep channels.
He keepeth my log.
He guideth me by the star of holiness for his namesake.
Yea though I sail mid the thunders and tempests of life, I shall dread no danger, for thou art near me.
Thy love and care, they shelter me.
Thou preparest a harbor before me in the homeland of eternity.
Thou anointest the waves with oil, my ship rideth calmly.
Surely sunlight and starlight shall favor me on the voyage I take,
And I will rest in the port of my God forever.
Capt John H Rogers, 1874
Next Veteran’s Day please think of the merchant seamen.