Here are a few books that have been written about the US Merchant Marine. Herman Starnes, author of Torpedoed for Life: World War II Combat Veterans of the United States Merchant Marines, writes, "The subject of this book is not the U.S. in WW II. Those accounts almost never mention the Merchant Mariners. Our stories are told by these old men who were out there on every ocean before, during, and after the US entered the war, 1940-1946." That is the story that these books tell -- the war as Jack and others like him saw it. This list is a work in progress.
American Maritime History Project, The (author). Braving the Wartime Seas: A Tribute to the Cadets and Graduates of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and Cadet Corps Who Died During World War II. XLIBRIS, 2014. ISBN 978-1493186150
Billy, George J. and Billy Christine M. Merchant Mariners at War: An Oral History of World War II (New Perspectives on Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology). University Press of Florida, 2008. ISBN 978-0813032467
Bunker, John. Heroes in Dungarees: The Story of the American Merchant Marines in World War II. Naval Institute Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1591140993
Herbert, Brian. The Forgotten Heroes: The Heroic Story of the United States Merchant Marines. Forge Books, 2004. ISBN 978-0765307064
London, Jack. In addition to his better known books (Call of the Wild, White Fang, and others), Mr. London wrote about his travels on the Pacific Ocean between 1906 and 1916. http://www.lamaritimemuseum.org/2014/02/jack-london/
Moses, Sam. At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Mariners Turned the Tide of World War II. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007. ISBN 978-0345476746
Starnes, Herman G. Torpedoed for Life: World War II Combat Veterans of the United States Merchant Marines. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. ISBN 978-1480285231
Philip R. Byrd, “S.S. John W. Brown,” Explore Baltimore Heritage, accessed February 22, 2017, http://explore.baltimoreheritage.org/items/show/558
Earle, Rob. Capt. Misunderstood Mariner. http://misunderstoodmariner.blogspot.com/
Giroux, William. The Merchant Marine Were the Unsung Heroes of World War II in Smithsonian Magazine. May 27, 2016. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/merchant-marine-were-unsung-heroes-world-war-ii-180959253/?no-ist
On the Water. A website about merchant ships throughout history, from 1459 to the present. One section, entitled Answering the Call, tells about merchant ships and seamen in World War II. It is presented in three sections.
Building Ships for Victory: http://amhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/6_2.html
Merchant Seamen: http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/6_3.html
Potter, N. "S.S. John W. Brown: Honoring Those Who Built, Defended, and Sailed the Liberty Fleet" in Sealift: Official Blog of the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift command. May 24, 2016. http://mscsealift.dodlive.mil/2016/05/24/s-s-john-w-brown-honoring-those-who-built-defended-and-sailed-the-liberty-fleet
Scarpello, Charles A. "The Life of a Merchant Marine : Documents" in The SS John W. Brown Blog. http://www.ssjohnwbrown.org/blog/2016/6/25/the-life-of-a-merchant-marine-documentation
Schaffer, Amanda. Lost at Sea on the Brink of the Second World War in Culture Desk: The New Yorker. May 28, 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/lost-at-sea-on-brink-second-world-war
American Merchant Marine Heroes and their Gallant Ships in World War II. http://www.usmm.org/men_ships.html
Poems related to the Merchant Marine: http://www.usmm.org/poems.html#anchor448654
Heaving Line, the newspaper of the Sheepshead Bay Training Station of the Merchant Marine. There is nothing in them about our boy, Jack, who attended officer training at the Coast Guard Academy, Fort Trumbull, Connecticut, but they tell a great deal about the training these aspiring mariners received, those missing and lost in the war at sea, and even their fight to be recognized as members of the military.
Heaving Line. United States Maritime Service. Vol 1, No 10. Brooklyn, New York, April 10, 1943. https://files.acrobat.com/a/preview/5b78993f-c458-4639-b0fe-603d001a53a1
Heaving Line. United States Maritime Service. Vol 2, No 1. Brooklyn, New York, May 6, 1943. https://files.acrobat.com/a/preview/575d1098-5117-4239-96ae-894bada49dab
In ten boats (not ships), Merchant Marine volunteers from the United States and Canada transported 38,000 survivors of the Nazi death camps to Israel in a secret mission in 1947. Hear survivors tell what it was like in Waves of Freedom (video). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgdFf1bjvG4&t=1043s
Here is a partial list of movies using or about merchant ships. It is a work in progress.
Captain Phillips, Moby Dick, and Blood Alley are available on Amazon Instant Video.
Captain Phillips, Moby Dick, The Sea Chase, Blood Alley, and Morituri are available on DVD.
The High and the Mighty (1954). Available on Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.
Synopses of Merchant Marine Movies
The Finest Hours (2016)
The Finest Hours is based on a true event; in fact, it has been called "the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history" (end credits).
On February 18, 1952, during a Nor'easter off the coast of Cape Cod, two tankers split in two. The story follows the Coast Guard's attempt to rescue the crew of one of those tankers. When the tanker split, the bow immediately sank; however, the stern remained afloat for several hours. The storm-driven waves were too strong for lifeboats to be used.
The merchant mariners comprising the ship's crew pumped water in an effort to keep the engines running and built a makeshift rudder with which to steer the wreckage toward a shoal. Their plan was to beach there until the storm passed and they could be seen and rescued. When the bow of the ship sank, radio contact with the Coast Guard station was lost.
The four-man small boat rescue crew had little more than general directions to take them through the high waves and to the approximate location of the wreckage. Through nothing short of a miracle, the small boat located the wreckage. Disobeying orders to carry only twelve people on the small boat, the Coast Guardsmen loaded all 32 survivors from the ship, which sank almost immediately, and carried them safely to shore.
The story is overwhelmingly emotional, even if one thinks it is fiction while watching it. To then learn that it actually happened is really more than one can bear. But do bear it. This is a beautiful story of what can be accomplished when people give their all to the mission at hand, as these merchant mariners and Coast Guardsmen did.
The Finest Hours won the Heartland Film Award for Truly Moving Motion Picture. It was awarded to Craig Gillespie (director), Walt Disney (production company, distributor), and Whitaker Entertainment (production company).
Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, and John Magaro
Writers: Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias (book); Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson (screenplay)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Executive Producer: Douglas C. Merrifield
Producers: Dorothy Aufiero and James Whitaker
Watch it on Netflix.
A Night to Remember (1958)
A Night to Remember, based on Walter Lord's novel of the same name, tells the RMS Titanic's tragic story from the point of view of Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller (Kenneth More) and, indeed, from the points of view of the merchant mariners aboard not only the RMS Titanic, but also the SS Californian and the RMS Carpathia.
We see less about the passengers, which are highlighted in other books and films about that fateful night, and more about the events that transpired and how the crew responded to them. From the coal stokers to the deck officers, we see a completely dedicated crew that would have been able to avoid the collision with the errant iceberg with today’s detection technology and would have been able to save the lives of all aboard with enough lifeboats for the number of passengers onboard, rather than the number prescribed in the regulations. As is so often the case in these situations, the tragedy taught lessons that led to improvements, yet did nothing to help those caught up in the tragedy.
The RMS Carpathia was anxious to respond to assist, yet was a full four hours away. Even though the Titanic could hope to survive for no more than 1-1/2 to 2 hours, Carpathia rushed at full speed to her rescue. Carpathia Captain Arthur Rostron (Anthony Bushnell) and his crew knew the big ship would be gone when they arrived, but they hurried forward and, upon arriving, picked up more than 700 survivors from Titanic’s lifeboats. Carpathia's chaplain gave a worship service by way of trying to console all the widows, whose husbands had been left behind, while her crew found places throughout the ship for the survivors to sit and sleep during the remainder of the voyage to New York.
Sadly, we see that not all merchant mariners were as trustworthy as those aboard the Titanic. Unlike other recountings of that night, A Night to Remember tells the tale of the SS Californian, which was stopped a mere six miles away to await daylight before attempting to pass through the icy waters. Its crew heard the cries of SOS over the wireless, saw the messages sent by Morse lamps, and saw the glare of the emergency rockets set off by the Titanic’s crew, yet Californian Captain Stanley Lord (Russell Napier) did not respond. Was he afraid of hitting an iceberg, himself? Was he more concerned with getting a good night’s sleep, although we must ask how he could sleep when his men were keeping him apprised of their observations from the deck. Later, at both American and British maritime hearings, Californian Captain Stanley Lord gave contradictory testimony of his actions (inactions). In contrast, Carpathia Captain Arthur Rostron gave consistent testimony.
Titanic Captain Edward John Smith (Laurence Naismith) went down with his ship after managing the incident professionally from the first sign of trouble until he gave orders for those remaining aboard to abandon ship. Similarly, the ship’s orchestra continued to play until the bitter end. The last song they played was Nearer My God to Thee (Sarah Flower Adams, composer).
Watch it on Amazon Instant Video.
Winter Cruise (1951)
Take a cruise on a merchant ship from England to Jamaica and back in Winter Cruise. Originally a short story by W. Somerset Maugham, it became the second of three vignettes filmed as Encore in 1951. Encore was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952.
In Winter Cruise, the crew on a merchant ship is left nonplussed by a spinster passenger who talks non-stop. The ship's officers try to hide from her without success, then decide what she needs is romance. They assign the ship's steward to court her with surprising results.
It is interesting to see that, while the ship is a cargo carrier, the quarters and common rooms for crew and passengers are quite elegant. The crew are commissioned officers, graduates of an English merchant navy academy. Their real-life counterparts are the officers with whom Jack would have worked after his graduation from the US Maritime Service Officers School.
Winter Cruise stars Kay Walsh as the spinster, Molly Reid; Noel Purcell as the ship's captain; Ronald Squire as the ship's doctor; John Laurie as the ship's engineer; and Jacques Francois as the ship's steward.
Watch Encore, including Winter Cruise, on Netflix.
The Yankee Clipper (1927)
Read this and see if you don’t come away with the feeling that a young Jack was probably at the Saturday matinee and clinging to his seat with excitement in his eyes.
The Winslow family of Boston builds sailing ships. They’ve just built the Yankee Clipper, which they hold to be the fastest sailing ship in the world. Not so, say the British. And, so, a race ensues from Foochow Harbor in China to Boston. The winner not only will garner the Foochow tea trade for all of America, but the loser’s ship, as well.
The action takes place aboard the Yankee Clipper, where English Lady Jocelyn Huntington (Elinor Fair) has gone to see its captain, Hal Winslow (William Boyd). The cannon sounds for departure before she debarks, and so, she sails on the American ship. With her is her pre-arranged fiancé, a ne’er-do-well and villain of the lowest order, Paul de Vigny (John Miljan). He’s dark, swarthy, self-serving, a liar and a cheat. Even before Lady Jocelyn meets him, he’s keeping company and vowing his love to a Chinese woman.
The ships encounter a typhoon in which they lose potable water, as well as four crewmen. When the captain puts de Vigny to work in their place, de Vigny stages a mutiny against the captain to release kegs of water from the life boats. There’s even a pirate to go after Lady Jocelyn. No doubt, she would have lost her maidenhood were it not for the young stowaway, Mickey (Frank Coghlan, Jr.), who outfoxed the pirate and sent him to his death in the waters, below.
It’s neck-and-neck as to which ship will win the race, but of course, in Victorian melodramas, the good guys always win.
Watch it on Amazon Instant Video.
Treasure Quest (2009)
Treasure Quest is a Discovery Channel television production that features the undersea discovery of sunken ships, including merchant ships, U-boats, and even the RMS Lusitania. Comprises 11 episodes.
Watch on Amazon Instant Video.
The High and the Mighty (1954)
Have you seen The High and the Mighty (Warner Brothers, 1954)? It starred John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, and Robert Stack.
A four-engine propeller plane departed Honolulu bound for San Francisco. Some minor tremors that could not be pinpointed became a serious problem near the point of no return when an engine went out and fuel began to leak from the wing where it was stored. To make matters worse, the radio could raise neither Honolulu nor San Francisco. It did raise a merchant ship that was sailing almost directly under the crippled aircraft. The communications officer aboard ship relayed messages back and forth between the plane and San Francisco until a Coast Guard plane from San Francisco met up with the stricken plane and was able to make communication with it. Yes, they got down safely.
1. The flight from Honolulu to San Francisco was scheduled to last 12 hours, 15 minutes. Today, it takes about 5-1/2 hours.
2. The movie was filmed at the Glendale Air Terminal, the Oakland Municipal Airport, the San Francisco International Airport, and at the Samuel Goldwyn Studies in Hollywood -- but not in Honolulu. What a letdown.
Duty to Cargo is a 19-minute documentary film circa 1939 by Wilding Picture Productions for the American Hawaiian Steamship Company (established 1899). It shows the development of the Company's routes between the east and west coasts and on to Hawai'i. It is an interesting look at the transition from sailing ships to steamships and the development of piers for loading and unloading using booms. Quite a bit more manpower was required in those early days, before conveyor belts and computers became available.
Watch it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPZF8ppSIRk#t=22
Read more about this film. https://16mmlostandfound.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/duty-to-cargo-1940/