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Shipping Out: 1941

December 1941. "Merchant seaman at National Maritime Union hiring hall, New York City." Medium format acetate negative by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.

December 1941. "Merchant seaman at National Maritime Union hiring hall, New York City." Medium format acetate negative by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.


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Already serving his country

From:Frequently Asked Questions about the Merchant Marine

Were Merchant Mariners "draft dodgers"?

Merchant mariners were subject to the draft if they took more than 30 days shore leave. Experienced mariners who had been drafted were released by the Army to serve in the Merchant Marine. Harold Harper "dodged" the draft by being torpedoed 6 times. Nick Hoogendam, who was too young for the Army or Navy, spent 83 days on a liferaft drinking rainwater and eating "sushi." John Stanizewski, a mariner in WWI and WWII, had 10 ships knocked out from under him. Michael Horodysky was classified 4F in the draft due to a bad heart and sailed the dangerous Murmansk run and took part in the North African invasion. The Chief Engineer of the SS Peter Kerr, sunk in Convoy PQ17, had a wooden leg. Harold "Bud" Schmidt joined the Merchant Marine as one-eyed 16-year-old kid.

Merchant Mariners had the highest casualty rate of all the services in World War II
Number serving 243,000 Killed 9,521 Percent 3.90% Ratio 1 in 26
The Navy had 4,183,466 serving: 36,958 killed: 0.88% lost: or 1 in 114 died in service.

By the way: Merchant Mariners did not receive veteran status until the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977.

Getting Drafty In Here

Does anyone know if being a merchant seaman kept you from being drafted into the service? I would guess so, but do not know for sure.

High Seas Hygiene

Sailors travel to many lands,
anywhere they pleases.
And they always remember to wash their hands,
so they don't contract diseases.

Ready to join the Battle of the Atlantic

He's ready for an assignment at the moment when American involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic was in its most intense phase. (Churchill coined the name nine months earlier.)

The Battle of the Atlantic wouldn't end until the last day of the war in Europe. By a reliable figure, the Allies lost 36,000 merchant seamen (and an equal number of sailors). Send back a retrospective wish for this young man.

Lighting up

America was fully involved in the Battle of the Atlantic long before our formal entry into the war and it was an incredibly deadly business. More than 3500 ships were lost to U Boats. If your ship was sunk your chances of survival were not good. For obvious reasons convoys could not stop to pick up survivors and the North Atlantic is cold even during the summer months. During the rest of the year it is frigid. While it doesn't get the same attention as other fronts, it was among the most important. If the Germans had won here, Britain and probably the USSR would have been knocked out of the war. People like this young man faced the constant threat of sudden death while working under the most miserable conditions imaginable, especially during winter crossings. We owe a great deal to him and his shipmates. So go ahead and light one up buddy. If I had your job, I likely would have smoked too.

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