Battle for Peleliu Island WWII: And the Stories of Three Survivors


Peleliu Battle map.  Map


The archipelago of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean is 550 miles (890 kilometers) east of the Philippines.  It consists of volcanic and coral islands and a large barrier reef which encircles nearly all of the archipelago.

After the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War (April 21 – August 13, 1898), Spain in 1899 sold Palau to Germany.  In 1914 control of Palau passed to Japan.  

Only two of the Palau islands, Peleliu and Angaur, would be occupied by the Americans in WWII.  Koror, the capital of Palau, on the island of Koror remained in Japanese control until the end of WWII.

Peleliu, a platform coralline island, 6.56 square miles, was the location of a brutal battle between the United States (US) Marine 1st Division, the US Army 81st Infantry Division, and Imperial Japanese forces during Operation Stalemate II (September 15 – November 27, 1944).  The Japanese had made the island into a defensive fortress.

[Operation Stalemate II.  The operation to secure the Palau islands was intended to stop the Japanese from attacking US Army General Douglas MacArthur’s western flank as he fought to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control.]

Other American units involved in the Peleliu battle were the 11th Marine Regiment, Artillery; 12th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion; 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion; 3rd Armored Amphibian Tractor Battalion; Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) 6 and 7; and the 4th, 5th, and 6th Marine War Dog Platoons.


US Marine War Dog Platoons. Marine rests on Peleliu in October 1944 with his dog.  Photograph


The fight for Peleliu was predicted to last a few days.  The island was declared secure after 74 days of fighting.

The invasion of Peleliu was an American victory with a exceedingly high casualty rate; US casualties totaled almost 1,800 killed in action (KIA) and over 8,000 wounded or missing.  Japanese losses were over 10,000 KIA.



Peleliu island was a maze of rocky ramparts, hills, crags, jungles, and caves.  The Japanese had built a strong defense of the island. There was a system of over 500 caves and tunnels which allowed Japanese soldiers to move undetected between areas of combat.

Important in the lead-up to the invasion was a plan using Navy UDTs, also known as “frogmen.”  

In an article by Toni L. Carrell, Ph.D., Chief Scientist and Principal Investigator, Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, “… unless the amphibious craft could get over the reef; avoid the mines; navigate the concrete anti-boat obstacles, the coral heads, and boulders; and land on shore, it (the invasion) was doomed to failure. … UDT reconnaissance was integral to all planning.


Figure 3: Andy Anderson, GM1/c, of UDT7, with a J-13 mine at Peleliu. This type of ‘horned’ mine was particularly dangerous because it was so unstable.
From Carrell article. Andy Anderson, of UDT 7, with a J-13 mine at Peleliu. This type of “horned” mine was particularly dangerous because it was so unstable.  Photograph Navy Seal Museum.


In the run up to the Peleliu operation, UDT 10 scouted the invasion beaches in USS [United States Ship] Burrfish. The information gathered in August 1944 revealed an array of concrete tetrahedrons, a double row of wooden posts 75 yards from shore, barbed wire, horned mines and, importantly, in some areas the reef was awash with barely two feet of water at low tide. Three days before D-Day, UDTs 6 and 7 deployed along the invasion beaches to destroy obstacles, but more critically, to blast wide ramps into the coral for the amphibious craft. Not only was their mission dangerous and in broad daylight, naval fire support from offshore flew overhead and periodic sniper and machine gun fire from shore targeted the unarmed swimmers in the shallow lagoon. The night before the assault, UDTs crawled ashore to demolish rock cribs, posts, barbed wire, concrete cubes, and set buoys off the reef to mark the newly blasted passageways.”

Carrell also describes the amphibious assault plan to capture Peleliu, “The new plan involved five imaginary parallel lines offshore where various elements of the task force could stage with their ships and troops before the assault. Farthest out at 18,000 yards were the big ships and transports. Next came the LSTs (landing ship transports) carrying the troops in LVTs (landing vehicle tracked) in their cavernous holds. At 6,000 yards from shore, the LSTs opened their bow doors and the small LVTs (sometimes called amtracs) embarked. The fourth line was 4,000 yards from shore, still 30 minutes travel time to the beach. This was the rendezvous line for all of the assault waves to form groups opposite their designated beaches. The final line before the reef was at 2,000 yards and 15 minutes from shore, where the amtracs returned after carrying the assault waves to the beach and where the next groups of men and supplies transferred from small boats to the amtracs. When the troop-carrying amphibious fleet reached the last line at 1,000 yards, they were on their own to cross the reef and get to shore.

Stewarding the small fleet at each line were submarine chasers, patrol craft, and Higgins boats, hoisting signaling flags, forming up the waves, and in constant radio contact. Preceding the first waves of personnel were armored LVT(A)s (amphibian tanks) armed with machine guns and howitzers, to neutralize beach defenses and support the landings. LCI(G) (landing craft, infantry, gunboats) armed with rockets stood offshore at the 1,000-yard line and raked defensive positions and provided covering fire for the LVT(A)s. Overhead, naval gunfire pummeled the island and aircraft bombed and strafed. The landing was a complex maneuver requiring precise timing and coordination.”

After days of US heavy naval and aerial bombardment of Peleliu the 1st Marine Division began landing on the beaches of the island at 0830 (military time) on September 15, 1944.  The 1st Marine Regiment landed on beaches White 1 and 2; the 5th Marine Regiment landed on beaches Orange 1 and 2; and the 7th Marine Regiment landed on beach Orange 3.


LVTs move toward the invasion beaches on Peleliu on September 15, 1944.  Photographed from a USS Honolulu CL (Light Cruiser)-48 plane.  Photograph Wikimedia Commons.


The airfield on the southern part of Peleliu (see map at the start of this story) was captured within the first week.  Marine F4U Corsair fighter planes then used it to fly close air support missions.  They were “so close” to the action that pilots didn’t raise their landing gear while airborne; a military operational mission (also known as a sortie) could be flown in a matter of 30 minutes from take-off to landing.

The Umurbrogol Mountain and ridge lines were particularly dangerous for the Marines in combat; narrow valleys and peaks, sinkholes, steep coral hills, and straight drops down the ridges along with hard surfaces which prevented the digging of foxholes took their toll on men KIA and wounded.  This combat sector on Peleliu became known as “Bloody Nose Ridge.”



Joe W. Clapper, 1st Marine Division. Oral History interview for the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, on August 28, 2010.  He was interviewed at the 1st Marine Division Association Reunion in San Antonio, Texas.


Joe Clapper oral history interview August 28, 2010, in San Antonio, Texas.  Photograph video frame from 2010 interview.


Joe Clapper and fellow US Marines circa 1944. Joe is kneeling, third from left. No  identification of other Marines in the photograph. Photograph National Museum of the Pacific War.


Joe W. Clapper was born March 22, 1924, in Jonesboro, Indiana.  His family would later move to Kalamazoo, Michigan.  After graduating from high school in June 1942, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve.

After training in San Diego and Camp Elliott, California, Joe sailed on a Liberty ship to Melbourne, Australia.  He was assigned to K Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, as a replacement.

While in Melbourne Joe said the Marines had training exercises at the cricket grounds.  [Today it is the site of the Australian Open tennis tournament.]  He, as many WWII US service members commented, liked the friendly Australians.

From Melbourne the 1st Marines went to Goodenough Island off New Guinea.  Upon leaving Melbourne the stevedores were on strike, so the Marines had to load their own ships.

On December 26, 1943, the 1st Marines came ashore and saw action at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, as part of Operation Cartwheel (1943 – 1944).  An important objective of Cartwheel was to neutralize a major Japanese base at Rabaul, New Britain.


Operation Cartwheel (1943–1944) was a major Allied operation in the Pacific Theater of War in WWII.  Map Wikimedia Commons.


In April 1944 the 1st Marine Division left New Britain and went to Pavuvu Island in the Russell Islands to rest and train for the assault on Peleliu.  The Russell Islands are comprised of two small islands Pavuvu and Banika, as well as several islets, which are northwest of Guadalcanal and part of the Solomon Islands chain.

The Battle of Peleliu began on September 15, 1944.  Joe, in his interview, said reveille, the military wake up call, was at 1 am.  The ship served steak and eggs that morning.  And then began the transfer of the men from the larger ships (the process described earlier in this story) to the beaches.

When Joe landed on White beach in the first assault wave as Japanese machine gun fire raked the beach and sand was flying through the air,  he said, “It was like trying to run between raindrops.” 

Near the end of the first day of battle Joe’s life was saved by a young Marine.  It had been discovered that the Marine was 15 years old. The paperwork to send him back to the US had not been completed, so J. M. Morsy (exact name inaudible in the interview) from Harlan County, Kentucky, went on the Peleliu operation.  Joe called him “Junior.”  Junior had yelled at Joe, “look out Joe, a Jap.”  Joe said he turned to look after the warning and was looking into the rifle barrel of a Japanese soldier.  Junior killed the soldier.  Joe in  his interview was still very grateful that Junior, who should not have been there, had saved his life.

On the second day of the battle Joe saw a good friend of his die.  Fortune Orlando Rosenkrans, III, from Pennsylvania, nicknamed “Rosie,” was fatally shot in the chest, and the bullet “blew his lung out” his back.  Joe still carries that image of “Rosie” with him.

On that same day after “Rosie” died, Joe was hit by a bullet in the left upper chest area.  A US Navy Corpsman put a bandage on the wound, and Joe was evacuated to the beach and transferred to a hospital ship offshore.  Joe commented in his interview that the beach was “carpeted” with dead Marines.

Joe Clapper’s next battle would be the Battle of Okinawa (April 1 – June 22, 1945.)

By war’s end Joe received three Purple Hearts: one Purple Heart for his wound at Peleliu and two Purple Hearts for wounds received on Okinawa (one wounding from shrapnel, and then another wound from Japanese machine-gun fire.)

Joe Clapper passed away January 31, 2019.


John W. Bailey, Jr., US Navy Corpsman, 1st Marine Division.  Oral History interview for the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, on August 28, 2010.  He was interviewed at the 1st Marine Division Association Reunion in San Antonio, Texas.


John Bailey US Navy circa 1943. John was an active member of the Santa Paula, California, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2043. Photographs courtesy of the Bailey family.


John W. Bailey, Jr., was born May 31, 1925, in Goodson, Missouri. When he was nine years old the family moved to Santa Paula, California.  He wanted to join the US Navy after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, and at 17 1/2 years old John persuaded his father to sign the paperwork permitting him to enlist under the required age by the military.  In his interview John recalled his father saying to him at the time, “I feel just like I’m signing your death warrant.”

John enlisted in the US Navy on January 7, 1943.  He was selected for medical training as a US Navy Corpsman.  In September 1943 he shipped out from San Diego, California.  The ship docked at the island of New Caledonia, approximately 750 miles (1,210 kilometers) east of Australia, which was the location of a US Marine replacement battalion.  Later John and other replacements would sail to Australia where he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division.  [The US Marine Corps does not have a medical component and uses the medical resources of the US Navy.]

After the 1st Marine Division left New Britain they went to Pavuvu (as noted in the Joe Clapper story above).  Pavuvu with a large coconut plantation on the island had been deserted by the natives when the war began.  The Marines needed to construct island infrastructure and their own base.  But they fought another kind of enemy on the island — rats and land crabs.  John said it was difficult to sleep at night with rats and crabs running through the tents and over its inhabitants, sometimes nibbling on the ears of the Marines. The Marines had contests to see who could kill the most rats; the winner got a bottle of alcohol.  As the tale goes Marines would sometimes steal dead rats from each other to ensure a win.  In Marine language “Pavuvu” became a 6-letter bad word.  

The Marines did leave Pavuvu with a good memory; legendary comedian Bob Hope, representing the United Service Organizations (USO), put on a show for them in August 1944.  


US Marines entertained during the Bob Hope USO show on Pavuvu in August 1944. Photograph


The next stop for the 1st Marines was Peleliu on September 15, 1944. 

US Navy Corpsman John Bailey landed on White beach that day with the 1st Marine Regiment led by Marine Colonel Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller.

“Forty-five days and 1,000 nights” was John’s answer when asked how long he was on Peleliu.  He spoke of the Battle of Peleliu in what he called “the horror of all battles.”  The following are some of John’s memories of the battle:

John estimated that the temperature on the island could get as high as 115 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pre-landing bombing and further combat decimated most of the trees and foliage that could have provided some shade and cover and concealment when fighting.  

Dehydration was a significant issue.  Some metal barrels previously filled with gasoline had been brought ashore containing water that was undrinkable.  Sunburn and blisters were common in the hot and humid climate; men’s eyes would sometimes swell shut.

Patches of sharp coral could be deadly; some men died of flying shards of coral that flew through the air after the ground was hit with bombs and artillery barrages.

When not out with the Marines as a Corpsman, John worked with the Graves Registration Service units finding, identifying, and burying bodies in a temporary cemetery constructed on the island.  It became very important to him to be able to identify bodies so that the families of the dead Marines would know what happened to their loved ones.

John said they could not begin the gathering of the dead Marines for three to four days after the battle began because of the intense and constant fighting.  Bodies in that climate after two days could be unrecoverable due to decomposition.

And then there was the “SMELL” of the island because of American and Japanese dead bodies along with the island being used as what John called “one big toilet.”  Marine pilots told him they could “smell” the island flying over it.

John Bailey wrote a book, “Islands of Death, Islands of Victory,” published in 2002 based on his memories and experiences on Peleliu as well as other battle sites.  In the book he wrote:

“There was a saying:  A Marine who had served on Peleliu died and went to heaven.  When St. Peter opened the gate the Marine saluted and said, ‘Another Marine reporting sir, I have already served my time in Hell.’  Of such a place was Peleliu.”

After Peleliu the 1st Marine Division returned to Pavuvu and began to train for the Battle of Okinawa.

John Bailey passed away June 26, 2020.


William Taylor Stitt, Seabee, Construction Maintenance Battalion Unit #571.  Oral History interview for the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, on July 6, 2011.  He was interviewed at his home in San Antonio, Texas.


William Taylor Stitt oral history interview July 6, 2011, in San Antonio, Texas.  Photograph video frame from his 2011 interview.


WWII Seabee recruiting poster. Poster


[A brief history of the Seabees in WWII.  The nickname “Seabee” is based upon a heterograph of the first letters of the words Construction Battalion “C B.”  Two of its mottos are “We build, We Fight” and “Can Do.”

The US Navy Construction Battalion(s), better known as Seabees, were established in 1942 in response to a need in WWII to build and maintain bases and airfields, pave roadways, and they took on multiple other construction projects around the world in all theaters of war.  The work was varied and also involved constructing caskets and making crosses and Star of David grave markers for the temporary cemeteries.  During WWII they constructed over 400 bases.

These are but a very few of the locations the Seabees saw action during WWII:  (1) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador — outfitted a seaplane base,  (2) Morocco — constructed military facilities in Casablanca after landing with American forces during Operation Torch November 1942, (3) Normandy, France, June 6, 1944 — went ashore with the US Army Engineers to destroy barriers and obstacles put in place by the Germans, (4) assisted US General George S. Patton’s troops in crossing the Rhine River at Oppenheim, Germany, March 22, 1945 [One Seabee crew ferried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Rhine on an inspection tour.], (5) Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands — first Seabee crew to build under combat conditions when rebuilding a strategic airfield now called Henderson Field, and (6) Tinian Island, Mariana Islands — after the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) arrived at Tinian with the first atomic bomb later dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, the Seabees helped unload the ship and store the components awaiting assembly; on the August 6 mission, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay took off from Tinian’s North Field built by the Seabees.

There was heroism, and a price paid by the Seabees in WWII.  The Seabees earned 33 Silver Stars and five Navy Crosses.  Eighteen officers and 272 enlisted men would be KIA.  And construction accidents resulted in more than 500 Seabee deaths.]

William Taylor Stitt, known as “Taylor,” was born June 26, 1915, in Williamsville, Illinois, a small town near Springfield, Illinois.  In August 1943 he would enlist in the Seabees.

After training in the US, Taylor was assigned to Construction Maintenance Battalion Unit #571.  They travelled from Gulfport, Mississippi, through the Panama Canal, and landed on Banika, Russell Islands.  They were based there until they left for Peleliu in September 1944.

With the bombing, strafing, and the pitched battle on Peleliu, the Seabees did not land until about five days after the fighting began. Then they set to work repairing airstrips, working on roads, repairing a battered Japanese administration building for use by the Marines, constructed ammunition storage huts, and worked on infrastructure to support the troops.

There were Japanese snipers on the island.  When driving a weapons carrier Taylor noticed a sniper bullet in the clock of the vehicle after he reached his destination.  

There were 16 huts of Seabee Construction Maintenance Battalion Unit 571 on the island.  They were still based on the island when WWII ended. Taylor was in Hut 1.


Hut 1. Back row, left to right: Harold A. Groh, George L. Henry, Wesley R. Stearman, Jr., William T. Stitt, Fred P. Brown, Jr., Robert G. Knapp. Middle row: Clarence G. Almquist, Edward J. Hurley, Emanuel L. Moore, Leonard A. Hulteen, Gerald D. Meeker. Front row: Russell E. Chaille, Ambrose J. Janedy, Patrick H. Jeffcoat, Edward G. Arnold, Jr., Vernon S. Swyers. Absent when picture taken was Hugh J. Burke.  Photograph


Taylor and his friend, Harold Groh (pictured above) from Mankato, Minnesota, would later “hitch” a ride after the war ended on the plane of a USO troop that put on a show on Peleliu.  Getting as far as Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, and not finding another flight to the US, Taylor and Harold sailed back to California on the USS Missouri.

One last story.  On Peleliu Taylor encountered a Marine friend of his from Springfield.  His friend, George, told Taylor, “If I live through the war, I’m going to invent a coffee machine.”  In 1957 George R. Bunn founded the  Bunn-O-Matic Corporation.

Taylor Stitt passed away on February 14, 2012.


Artist Tom Lea as a combat correspondent on Peleliu with the 1st Marine Division in 1944 would paint an image expressing what he saw.  Tom called it the 2000 Yard Stare.


2000 Yard Stare by Tom Lea. Image Wikimedia Commons.


Eight Marines received the Medal of Honor in the Battle of Peleliu:


Peleliu is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places as the Peleliu Battlefield and has been designated a US National Historic Landmark.




Thank you to the families of Joe Clapper, John Bailey, and Taylor Stitt for their help in researching this story and for permission to use the photographs.  Their oral history interviews are in the Archives of the National Museum of the Pacific War.


The US Coast Guard in WWII: And MOH Recipient Douglas A. Munro


WWII US Coast Guard recruiting poster. Poster


“Adaptability is synonymous with the operations of the United States Coast Guard. …. (the Coast Guard) sometimes lost its identity because it was grouped with the ‘Navy.’ …. recognition of the thousands upon thousands of Coast Guardsmen … is long overdue. …. I know of no instance wherein they did not acquit themselves in the highest traditions of their Service, or prove themselves worthy of their Service motto, ‘Semper Paratus’ — ‘Always Ready’.”  C. W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN


The United States Coast Guard (USCG) was established by the United States (US) Congress on January 28, 1915.  It became the fourth branch of the US military which then consisted of the US Army, the US Navy, and the US Marine Corps.  The new military branch combined the US Revenue Cutter Service founded August 4, 1790 (which is considered the birthday of the USCG), with the US Life-Saving Service founded in 1878.

On July 1, 1939, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt merged the US Lighthouse Service, founded in 1789, with the USCG as part of his Reorganization Plan No 11.

The early mission of the newly formed USCG was dedicated to the safety of life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.  The mission, duties, and responsibilities of the USCG would greatly expand during WWII and took the USCG to locations around the world. The purview of the USCG was transferred from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of the Navy during WWII.

The book The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II by Malcolm F. Willoughby is a detailed account of the role of the USCG in WWII and its contribution to the war effort around the world.

These are a number of the roles, duties, and responsibilities of the US Coast Guard in WWII:

provided operational support for every major amphibious landing in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Mediterranean during the war, often landing troops under fire on invasion beaches

— supported combat missions 

— provided troop transport

— delivered thousands of tons of supplies to Allied military forces

— took part in convoy escort duty

— manned weather stations at sea collecting information for such operational planning as the Battle of the Atlantic 

— hunted enemy submarines

— saved lives carrying out air and sea rescue

— manned US Navy ships and aided Navy personnel at times when Navy manpower was limited

— guarded the US coastline and beaches with dog and horse patrols

— protected newly captured enemy beachheads while also searching for hidden enemy snipers.


Map of Greenland, the largest island in the world. Thule Air Base, noted on the northwest Greenland land mass, built in 1943 during WWII is still in use today. Map


[A Greenland WWII historical overview.  WWII began September 1, 1939, with the German attack on Poland.  On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark.  Greenland, a Danish colony, was subsequently under Nazi influence and posed a threat to Canada, Britain, and the US.  Germany was interested in Greenland’s cryolite mine (a mineral used to process aluminum) and sought to establish weather stations on Greenland to provide information for Germany’s North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean submarine campaign and to predict weather in the WWII European Theater. Germany would continue to try to establish weather stations on Greenland between 1942 and 1944.

From 1941 to 1945 the US established weather stations, radio stations and beacons, ports and depots, search-and-rescue stations, and extensive facilities for air and sea traffic in Greenland.  In WWII Greenland also played an important role in military planning for the routing of convoys and ships and as a stopping/refueling point for military aircraft flying between the US and England.

Meteorological intelligence was essentially a “weather war” between the Allies and Germany.]


The Buskoe Incident

The US had established a defensive treaty with Greenland before the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

Almost three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Northland (a fast, light coastal patrol boat) investigated a suspicious fishing vessel near the Greenland Franz Joseph Fjord on September 12, 1941.  The boat was identified as the Norwegian trawler Buskoe which was servicing a radio station in Greenland and controlled by German interests.  

The next day a Coast Guard landing party went ashore, found and captured the radio station, and seized papers that the Nazis were attempting to burn.  The papers, of considerable value to the Coast Guard, were confidential instructions addressing Hitler’s plans to establish radio stations in the far north.

The trawler and the Buskoe crew and those arrested at the radio station were taken to Boston, Massachusetts, for internment.

The Coast Guard was credited with “the first naval capture by the United States during the period of emergency”  before officially entering the war on December 8, 1941.


The USCG Cutter Muskeget

The United States Ship (USS) Muskeget (AG-48) was transferred to the USCG on June 30, 1942, for use as a weather ship the USCGC Muskeget (WAG-48).  Boston, Massachusetts, was her home port with a duty assignment to the North Atlantic Weather Patrol.  Weather ships gathered data on winds, temperatures, humidity, and pressure to make weather forecasts that supported Allied military operations.  It was dangerous duty.  A ship was at sea and cruising in a small radius with no naval protection for a month while evading enemy submarines and being caught in storms. 


USS Muskeget before conversion to weather ship USCGC Muskeget. Photograph


On August 24, 1942, Muskeget departed Boston on her second weather patrol to Weather Station No. 2 off the southern tip of Greenland. After issuing a weather report on September 9, 1942, the ship and its crew of 121 were not heard from again.

It later became known that German Navy submarine U-755 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Walter Göing fired two torpedoes at 2:54 pm on September 9, 1942, sinking the Muskeget.  He would claim the ship had been misidentified as a merchant cruiser.  The submarine surfaced after the initial sinking and found a life raft with survivors.  U-755 departed the area but returned hours later finding eight men and two life rafts tied together.  Göing would say he thought the survivors shouted they were from an American ship.  No survivors were rescued.


Kapitänleutnant Walter Göing, submarine Commander U-755. The submarine was sunk May 28, 1943, near Toulon, France, in the Mediterranean Sea by a British Lockheed Hudson (a light bomber/patrol aircraft). Photograph


The USCGC Muskeget was the only weather ship lost in WWII.


The Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944

One of the major roles the USCG played on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, was rescuing troops in the water along the invasion beaches.

Operation Overlord planners for the June 6 invasion knew rescue craft would be needed for those troops on sinking invasion craft and those needing a water rescue after being wounded or falling into the English Channel during the battle.  Prior to the invasion 60 83-foot USCG cutters, patrolling along the East Coast of the US for enemy submarines, were transported to England piggy-back on freighters and modified for use as rescue craft.

The 60 cutters would be known as US Coast Guard Rescue Flotilla One [and the only flotilla]  and nicknamed the “Matchbook Fleet.” Thirty of the rescue craft were assigned to the American invasion beach sectors of Utah and Omaha, and the other 30 were off the British and Canadian beaches of Gold, Juno, and Sword.

The USCG cutters followed the first Allied landing wave to the beaches on June 6.  During the invasion they made 1,438 rescues from the English Channel.

A photograph taken by Coast Guard Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert R. Sargent on June 6, 1944, would come to represent the Normandy Invasion.  He took the photograph, titled “Into the Jaws of Death,” from his landing craft around 7:40 am at the American Omaha Beach sector “Easy Red.”


“Into the Jaws of Death” photograph. USCG Records, National Archives.


Fifteen Coast Guardsmen would lose their lives that day.


USCG Medal of Honor Recipient Douglas A. Munro

Douglas Albert Munro was born in Canada on October 11, 1919, to an American father and British mother.  The family moved to the small town of South Cle Elum in the State of Washington when he was a child.

Doug was attending the Central Washington College of Education when in the summer of 1939, aware that war might be imminent, he decided to enlist in the US Coast Guard.  Doug worked hard to gain weight to meet the minimum enlistment requirement.

Doug told his sister, Patricia, that he chose the Coast Guard because its primary mission was to save lives.  

While processing into the Coast Guard in Seattle, Washington, Munro met a fellow recruit, Raymond J. Evans, Jr.  They became very good friends and were assigned to the same ships except for one assignment.  Their shipmates gave them the nickname the “Gold Dust Twins.”  


Douglas Munro had achieved the rank of Signalman Third Class in this photo circa 1940. Photograph courtesy of the US Coast Guard.
Douglas Munro aboard a ship circa 1939 – 1942. Photograph courtesy of US Coast Guard.


It was at the Battle of Guadalcanal that Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro lost his life on September 27, 1942.  

His bravery and sacrifice were recognized with the award of the Medal Of Honor (MOH).  The MOH Citation:

“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as Petty Officer in Charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz Guadalcanal, on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led 5 of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its 2 small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was killed by enemy fire, but his crew, 2 of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

It was his friend Ray Evans who would hear Munro’s dying words. According to Evans, Doug asked, “Did they (the Marines) get off?” Evans said that he nodded in the affirmative to Munro’s question, and then he was gone.

Munro was weeks away from his 23rd birthday.  

Doug had achieved his purpose in joining the US Coast Guard in 1939.  He had saved lives.

Douglas Munro was buried in a temporary cemetery on Guadalcanal on the next day, September 28th.  US Marine Master Sergeant James Hurlbut in a letter to Doug’s father said Ray Evans had constructed the wooden cross marking his grave.

[Battle of Guadalcanal WWII brief historical overview.  The battle was fought August 7, 1942 — February 9, 1943.  


The Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific Ocean Solomon Islands. Guadalcanal bottom right on map. Map


The Allied victory marked the transition from defensive to offensive operations against the Empire of Japan in the Pacific Theater of Operations.]

The Medal of Honor was presented to Doug’s parents, James and Edith Munro, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House on May 24, 1943.

Edith Munro, at her insistence, joined the USCG Women’s Reserve (SPARS — an acronym for “Semper Paratus—Always Ready”) at the age of 48 to serve her country and to honor her son’s legacy.  She completed basic training with other Coast Guard recruits at her request and was commissioned a Lieutenant Junior Grade.


Official portrait of Edith Munro. Photograph naval


Douglas A. Munro’s remains were returned to the US in 1947 and interred in his hometown of Cle Elum, instead of Arlington National Cemetery, at his family’s request because they wanted to be able to visit his grave.  His parents would eventually be buried on either side of him at Laurel Hill Memorial Park.  Following her death in 1983, Edith was buried next to her son with full military honors. The Munro graves are designated a State of Washington Historical Site.


1939 USCG enlistment photo of Raymond J. Evans, Jr. Photograph


Raymond J. Evans, Jr. received the Navy Cross for his “extraordinary heroism” at Guadalcanal fighting alongside his good friend Doug Munro.  He remained in the USCG after WWII, received a commission, and retired in 1962 at the rank of Commander.  He died in 2013 at the age of 92.

Patricia Edith Munro, Doug’s sister, tried to join the USCG after Doug’s death but had the same problem her brother initially had when he tried to enlist; she couldn’t meet the minimum weight requirement.  But later in life her son Douglas Sheehan (named after her brother) joined the USCG and retired in the rank of Commander.



The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II by Malcolm F. Willoughby gives an comprehensive, in-depth account of the role of the USCG in WWII.


The Friendship of American Jesse Owens and German Carl “Luz” Long: And the 1936 Berlin XI Olympic Games


Berlin 1936 Olympic Games long jump award ceremony on August 4.  Gold Medalist Jesse Owens (USA), Silver Medalist Carl “Luz” Long (Germany), and Bronze Medalist Naoto Tajima (Japan).  Photograph


Tell him how things can be between men on this earth,” Luz Long.


James Cleveland “J.C.” Owens was born September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama.  His parents were sharecroppers.  They had 10 children;  Jesse was the youngest.  When Jesse was nine years old the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  When enrolling in school he told his teacher his name was J.C.; the teacher misunderstood and called him Jesse.  For the rest of his life he was known as Jesse.

His passion for running was noticed by the high school track coach Charles Riley who trained and encouraged him in Track and Field. Throughout his life Jesse would credit him for the successes in his athletic career.

Jesse’s talents and successes in high school Track and Field were noted by several universities.  He chose to attend Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.  It was there that another coach, Larry Snyder, would take Jesse “under his wing” and encouraged his Track and field abilities that would qualify him as a member of the 1936 United States (US) Olympic Track and Field team.


Jesse Owens, Ohio State University Track and Field 1930s.  Photograph


More than 300 members of the US Olympic team sailed from New York City, New York, to Germany on July 15, 1936, on the Steamship (SS) Manhattan.


The official poster of the 1936 Olympic Games.  Photograph Wikipedia.


The XI Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, began on August 1 with the opening ceremony attended by Chancellor Adolph Hitler.  After the parade of nations into the Berlin Olympic Stadium a runner carrying the Olympic torch ran into the stadium and up the steps to a caldron which would burn the Olympic flame until the completion of the games.  Hitler then declared the games open.

The torch relay of the Olympic flame from Greece to the Olympic Games host country began with the 1936 Berlin Olympics and continues to this day.

The Nazi government used the technology of early television for limited broadcasting of the 1936 Olympics.  It is estimated that 150,000 people watched the Olympics in 28 viewing rooms in the Berlin area. The 1936 games were the first to be televised.

Louis Zamperini, an American athlete who ran in the 5,000 meter race, related a humorous incident about the opening ceremonies:

“They released 25,000 pigeons, the sky was clouded with pigeons, the pigeons circled overhead, and then they shot a cannon, and they scared the poop out of the pigeons, and we had straw hats, flat straw hats, and you could heard the pitter-patter on our straw hats, but we felt sorry for the women, for they got it in their hair, but I mean there were a mass of droppings, and I say it was so funny…”

Louis Zamperini would finish 8th in the 5,000 meter race and set a new lap record.  He fought in WWII and in 2010 a book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption was published about his life.

Another member of the Track and Field team that year was Matthew MacKenzie “Mack” Robinson.  Mack was the older brother of Jackie Robinson who in 1947 was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Mack would win a silver medal in the 200 meters race at the Berlin Olympics; he finished 0.4 seconds behind Jesse Owens.

[In 1924 Adolf “Adi” and Rudolph Dassler opened the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, Germany.  The company specialized in athletic shoes.  Jesse Owens and others wore their athletic shoes during the 1936 Olympic competition.   

The brothers joined the Nazi Party in 1933.  During the war the factory  produced military boots for the German army.  In 1944 the shoe factory began manufacturing a lightweight, infantry anti-tank, shoulder-launched weapon nicknamed the “Panzerschreck” (also known as the “Tank Terror”).  It proved a deadly weapon against Allied tanks.  The development of this weapon was based on the US Army weapon the “bazooka,” nicknamed the “Stovepipe.”

After WWII the two brothers had a disagreement, and each opened their own shoe factory.  Adolf Dassler’s company continues today, and the shoes are known as Adidas.  Rudolph Dassler’s company shoes are known today as Puma.]

Jesse Owens won four Gold Medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  On August 3 he won the 100 meter race in 10.3 seconds; on August 4 in the long jump competition he jumped 8.06 meters (26 feet 5 inches) to defeat German Carl “Luz” Long; on August 5 he won the 200 meter sprint in 20.7 seconds; and on August 9 Jesse as a member of the 4 x 100 meter relay team won the race in 39.8 seconds.

But three experiences in particular would be remembered in history:

1.  Jesse Owens did not fit the Nazi ideology of the superiority of the Aryan “master race” because of his color.  Hitler refused to personally congratulate Jesse after his wins, and neither did US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  

2.  Due to German government pressure, US head coach Lawson Robertson replaced Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, the two Jewish members of the 4 x 100 relay team, with Jesse Owens and his teammate Ralph Metcalfe.  Jesse objected to this change but was told by coach Robertson to “do as you are told.”

3.  Jesse would remember and honor his friendship with his German long jump competitor Luz Long for the rest of his life.

Carl (sometimes spelled Karl) Ludwig “Luz” Long was born April 27, 1913, in Leipzig, Germany.  He practiced law in Hamburg, Germany, after graduating from the University of Leipzig.  In 1936 he held the European long jump record. 

Jesse had fouled twice while attempting to qualify for the long jump event.  He had only one attempt left.  Luz shared a technique with Jesse that helped him to qualify on his last jump.  In the finals of the long jump competition Jesse jumped 8.06 meters to win; Luz finished second with a jump of 7.87 meters.  Luz was the first to congratulate him.  After the award ceremony (see photo at the top of this story), Jesse and Luz walked arm in arm through the Berlin Olympic Stadium.


Luz Long and Jesse Owens walking around the Olympic Stadium after the awards ceremony. Photograph Wikipedia.


Luz and Jesse talking at the Olympics.  Photograph


Luz Long was sternly spoken to by Nazi Party officials after his time spent with Jesse.  

Jesse and Luz became friends at the Olympics and corresponded for years after that.  Jesse would say of his Olympic friendship with Luz, “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler… You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating for the twenty-four karat friendship that I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”

Luz’s last letter to Jesse in 1942 or 1943, probably written from North Africa where Luz was in the German Wehrmacht, spoke to the friendship they had:

I am here, Jesse, where it seems there is only the dry sand and the wet blood. I do not fear so much for myself, my friend Jesse, I fear for my woman who is home, and my young son Karl, who has never really known his father,” Long wrote.

My heart tells me, if I be honest with you, that this is the last letter I shall ever write. If it is so, I ask you something. It is a something so very important to me. It is you go to Germany when this war done, someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we not separated by war. I am saying—tell him how things can be between men on this earth. 

If you do this something for me, this thing that I need the most to know will be done, I do something for you, now. I tell you something I know you want to hear.  And it is true. 

That hour in Berlin when I first spoke to you, when you had your knee upon the ground, I knew that you were in prayer. 

Then I not know how I know. Now I do. I know it is never by chance that we come together. I come to you that hour in 1936 for purpose more than der Berliner Olympiade.

And you, I believe, will read this letter, while it should not be possible to reach you ever, for purpose more even than our friendship. 

I believe this shall come about because I think now that God will make it come about. This is what I have to tell you, Jesse. 

I think I might believe in God. 

And I pray to him that, even while it should not be possible for this to reach you ever, these words I write will still be read by you.

Your brother,


Carl “Luz” Long was wounded in Sicily on July 10,1943, during the Allied invasion of Sicily in Operation Husky (July 9 – August 17, 1943). He died on July 14 in a British military hospital there.  Luz was buried in Motta St. Anastasia German War Cemetery in Sicily.  He was 30 years old.

In 1951 Jesse Owens returned to Germany and was able to find Luz’s son, Karl (called Kai).  They would stay in contact, and when Kai got married Jesse was the best man.


Luz Long’s grown son, Karl (Kai), and Jesse Owens recreated a photo taken of Jesse and Luz during the 1936 Olympics. Photograph


Jesse Owens died on March 31,1980, in Tucson, Arizona.

But the story of the friendship between Jesse and Luz has continued on with a friendship built between their families.  From August 15 – 23, 2009, the 12th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship in Athletics was held in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium where the 1936 Olympics took place.  Jesse Owens’ granddaughter Marlene (Owens) Dortch, Luz’s son Karl (Kai), and Luz’s granddaughter Julia represented the Owens and Long families at the August 22 awards presentation to the winner of the long jump.


Berlin 2009 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics. Left to right: Luz Long’s granddaughter Julia, Luz’s son Karl (Kai), and Jesse Owens granddaughter Marlene (Owens) Dortch. Photograph


Jesse and Luz would be proud. 




Thank you to Charles Ross for his contribution to this story.

Among the references for this story:  the PBS American Experience documentary Jesse Owens, the film RACE, the film The Jesse Owens Story, and a young person’s book Jesse and Luz: A Special Friendship.


War Dogs Come in Different Sizes: The WWII Story of a Yorkshire Terrier Named Smoky

Smoky document


Smoky in a military helmet in New Guinea in 1944. Photograph John Aikin.



Information about Smoky from her Wikipedia page.


[The WWII New Guinea Campaign in the Pacific Theater of Operations lasted from January 1942 until August 1945.  In 1942 Japan invaded the Australian Territory of New Guinea (January 23) and the Territory of Papua (July 21) and overran western New Guinea, part of The Netherlands East Indies, in late March of that year. The Japanese occupation of New Guinea, north of Australia (see map below), was a strategic threat to the Allies and to Australia.]

On September 5, 1943, the Allies began an airborne operation to capture Nadzab, New Guinea.  It had an important airfield which became a major Allied air base in New Guinea.  The operation began with a parachute drop by the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US Army and the Australian Army 2/4th Field Regiment.  An overland route to Nadzab was taken by the Australian 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, 2/6th Field Company, and B Company Papuan Infantry Battalion.  After capturing and preparing the airfield an Allied transport plane landed the next day.

This story about Smoky and William “Bill” Wynne begins in New Guinea in 1944.  Smoky’s travels with Bill during the war took her from New Guinea, to Australia, to Biak Island, to the Philippines, Okinawa, and Korea.  When WWII ended Bill “smuggled” her back to the United States (US) (more on that later).

Follow Smoky and Bill’s WWII journey on the map below.


Map marking the journey of Smoky and Bill Wynne during WWII in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Map provided in Bill’s post-war memoir titled Yorkie Doodle Dandy.


Bill Wynne was drafted in 1943.  He trained with the US Army Air Force (USAAF) as a aerial photographer and attended mapping school.  Bill’s unit left for Australia on a Liberty ship in December 1943 and arrived in Brisbane, Australia, later that month.  On December 21, 1943, Bill with hundreds of other soldiers left Australia on the Steamship (SS) Contessa, an ironclad wooden ship, which transported them to New Guinea.  He was assigned to the aerial photography laboratory of the Fifth USAAF, 26th Photographic Reconnaissance (Photo Recon) Squadron, Hollandia Airfield Complex at Nadzab, New Guinea.  In April 1944 Bill was selected to fly combat as a aerial photographer.

[During WWII the 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron moved from Australia to New Guinea; to Mokmer Airfield, Biak Island, The Netherlands East Indies; Lingayen Airfield, Luzon, Philippines; Kadena Airfield, Okinawa; and Kimpo Airfield, Korea.

Photo Recon planes, unescorted with no armament for protection, photographed Japanese military installations, coastal defenses, harbor facilities, and airfields to provide vital information for the planning of Allied operations.

Reconnaissance aircraft were nicknamed “Spies in the Sky.”]

In March 1944 Bill Wynne’s tentmate, Ed Downey, was driving on a primitive jungle road near Hollandia when his Jeep broke down.  As he worked under the hood he heard a strange noise coming from the surrounding jungle.  While investigating the sound he found a little dog scratching in the dirt at the bottom of a foxhole.  He brought the dog back to the base and gave her to Hollandia Airfield mechanic, Sergeant Dare.  When Bill visited Dare and saw the dog, he offered him two Australian pounds for the dog.  Dare replied Bill could have the dog for three Australian pounds.  Bill was debating with himself how he would care for the dog in that environment, and he left.  The next day Sergeant Dare, carrying the dog with him, went to the photo lab where Bill was working and offered to sell the tiny dog to Bill for two Australian pounds, the equivalent of $6.44 in US dollars at that time.  Dare said he needed the money to get back into a poker game.  This time Bill, an ardent dog lover, said yes.  Bill decided to call her Smoky.  And so began a lifelong “partnership” between Bill Wynne and a dog named Smoky.

Taking care of a dog during wartime and in a jungle environment like New Guinea was challenging.  After adopting Smoky, Bill would give her daily baths in his helmet to keep her free of ticks and other insects.  With no dog food to feed the dog, he discovered Smoky liked bacon, ham, eggs, and bully beef (canned hash).  

But many at the Hollandia base continued to wonder where the dog came from, and how did she get there.

Whenever Bill talked to Smoky, she got very excited.  He tried out several words and names to see how she responded; names/words such as Sport, Rover, Christmas all got her excited and turning in circles.  Bill started teaching her commands and tricks; she was very smart and learned quickly.  Bill and Smoky began putting on shows for people at the base.  He took the dog with him most everywhere, and they became a team.

In 1944 a military publication Yanks Down Under had a contest to select “The Best Mascot of the Southwest Pacific Area.”  Smoky won! This recognition would be very helpful later. 

In July Bill woke up with a 105 degree fever.  He was taken to the US 233rd Field Hospital in Nadzab.  He was diagnosed with dengue fever (a mosquito-borne tropical disease).  While in the hospital Bill’s friends smuggled Smoky in, and they presented Bill with the announcement of Smoky’s contest win.  A few nurses discovered Smoky; Smoky won them over, and they asked to take her on rounds to “cheer up” the patients.  But the hospital commanding officer had to give his permission.  [The commander was Dr. Charles W. Mayo. His family was one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.]  Dr. Mayo saw how the dog brought smiles to all who saw and interacted with her; her fame as the newly crowned “best mascot” was helpful also.  While Bill was hospitalized, the nurses would pick up Smoky (who was allowed to sleep in Bill’s bed) every morning to go on rounds and would return her to Bill’s bed at the end of the day. 

After Bill was discharged from the hospital, his squadron doctor, Dr. Beryl D. Rosenburg, offered him some recuperative leave in Brisbane — with Smoky, of course.

While in Brisbane, Bill was asked by Barbara Wood Smith, Assistant Field Director, with the American Red Cross to take Smoky to the US Navy 109th Fleet Hospital to visit the patients. This was the first hospital where they put on a planned show; they performed in eight wards that day to the delight of all the patients and hospital staff. Barbara also asked if Bill and Smoky would visit the patients at the Brisbane US Army 42nd General Hospital.  They performed in 12 wards there.  The little dog brought smiles and joy to her audiences of injured, wounded, homesick, and war-weary troops.  

In September 1944 Barbara Wood Smith wrote a thank you letter to Cpl. (Corporal) “Smoky” on American Red Cross stationery:

Dear Cpl. Smoky:

It has been several weeks now since you visited our hospital and I suspect that by now you and Bill are back at work.  You should certainly feel a nice warm glow of satisfaction at all the pleasure you brought to the patients here at our hospital.  They enjoyed your visit so much and are still talking about you.  Some of them are boys who have lain in bed for months and have gotten very tired of looking at nothing but four walls and other sailors.  We all know that laughter is something that helps people get better and you certainly administered enough of it here to improve the health of any number of our boys.

May we congratulate you for being that almost unheard of combination — a lady artiste without temperament! You entertained in eight wards that one afternoon and seemed just as full of energy and just as obliging at the end of your tour as at the beginning.  The boys particularly liked your “dead dog” act and the way you jumped up and streaked after Bill when he gave you the word.  We think that you’re a wonderful morale builder and we hope that you’ll have the opportunity to entertain a lot more boys later on, go back to Bill’s home in Cleveland and carry on the good work there.

There’s always a welcome for you here, where you and Bill will be pleasantly remembered.

Sincerely, and with thanks from all of us,

Barbara Wood Smith

Assistant Field Director

[American Red Cross letter dated September 19, 1944, © Smoky War Dog LLC]

After two weeks in Australia,  Bill returned to his squadron which had moved to Biak Island after its capture from the Japanese.

[The Battle of Biak (see location on map above, just north of New Guinea) May 27 – August 17, 1944, was an Allied victory and resulted in the capture of a strategic airfield from the Japanese.  The airfield was renamed Mokmer Airfield.  It was of vital importance as the Allies prepared for the invasion of the Philippines.]

On September 16, 1944, Bill accepted an assignment that would take him out of the photo lab and into the air flying with the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron looking for downed pilots.  On his first mission he flew in a Stinson L-5 Sentinel. The small plane crew was a pilot and a photographer. The aircraft sometimes flew 50 feet above the ground as they surveyed battle sites.  They found a crash site, circled it three times, saw that the plane had dived into the ground, and a tree had ripped off the cockpit.  Bill took photos as proof of the crash and that there were no survivors.


Stinson L-5 Sentinel. Photograph


When Bill returned from his first mission and the dangers of this type of flying were revealed to his friends, they asked Bill who would get Smoky if he never came back.

On Bill’s second and future missions he (and Smoky) flew in a PBY Catalina.  The usual Catalina crew was comprised of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer-mechanic, radio operator, and two medics.  Bill and Smoky were crew additions.  Bill explained that Smoky was a mascot and would bring them good luck; the crew had no problem with Smoky.  Smoky flew inside a canvas musette bag (a type of knapsack); she sometimes ran around the plane when there was no combat/rescue action.


PBY Catalina “flying boat” taking off in 1942. An amphibious aircraft used in reconnaissance, search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, convoy escort, maritime patrol, and cargo transport.  On combat missions the crew called the aircraft “Cat” and “Dumbo” in an air-sea rescue. Photograph


In Bill Wynne’s memoir Yorkie Doodle Dandy written after WWII he recounted a mission that one could say is “luck” during wartime.  He and Smoky were already in the plane.  The mission was to rescue six downed men floating in a raft.  At the last minute a decision was made to send an extra medic instead of a photographer.  Bill would hear later that the aircraft and the men in the raft had disappeared. Bill counted his blessings.

As WWII progressed the next base for the 26th Photo Recon was the Philippines.  It was Smoky’s help here that Bill said she went from a pet companion to a war dog.


Smoky enters a 70 foot culvert running underneath an airstrip runway at Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, in January 1945. Photograph


Communication lines needed to be strung under a runway at Lingayen Gulf, Philippines.  It was estimated that without this successful endeavor using Smoky to pull a line through the culvert it would have taken about 70 men digging for approximately three days to accomplish the job and would have shut down the airfield to Allied planes.  With daily air attacks by the Japanese the lives of many men could have been lost.  Smoky completed the job in about three minutes.

After WWII Bill Wynne recounted the story in an appearance on NBC-TV:

“I tied a string (tied to the wire) to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,’ I said,  and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?’ The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her.  I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.”
When his duties and time permitted Bill would take Smoky to hospitals to visit with the patients.  They would also put on shows for people living around the base and children’s groups wherever the 26th Photo Recon was based.


Smoky visits the US Army 120th General Hospital in Manila, Philippines, June 1945. Left to right: hospital patient, Smoky, American Red Cross worker Barbara Wood Smith (she wrote the letter to Smoky as posted earlier in this story), and Bill Wynne. Photograph


The 26th Photo Recon Squadron moved on from the Philippines to Okinawa and then to Korea.  

On November 1, 1945, the squadron got orders to return to the US from Korea on the USS (United States Ship) General William H. Gordon.  One problem — the rumor (or truth?) was that US Army regulations stated no animals will go back to the US on a War Department ship.

Bill knew he couldn’t leave Smoky behind.  He devised a way to bring Smoky (hopefully undetected) aboard the ship in an oxygen carrying case.


Smoky hidden in an oxygen carrying case. Photograph William A. Wynne Photography Collection, Special Collections, Cleveland State University.


Smoky made it on board; she never barked, and the bag was not inspected.  Bill found a top bunk in a corner (the bunks were stacked five high).  The next morning, after 5,000 men had been loaded on the ship, there was an announcement that the man who brought a dog on-board needed to report to the troop office.  Bill did not respond to the announcement; he found out later that another man, his friend Randall with his dog Duke, had responded to the order. Randall was ordered to remove Duke from the ship.  But as luck would have it, as Randall was leaving the troop office a member of the ship’s crew approached him and said he would hide Duke in the hold of the ship; the sailor said he was already hiding two dogs and could fit in one more.  

On high tide the ship set sail for Washington state from Inchon Harbor, Korea.  At the start of the voyage the ship encountered rough seas, and Bill got very seasick.  Bill spent days sick in his bunk.  Men from the 26th would sneak Smoky to the upper deck for “potty” breaks; they would form a ring around her as they walked on the deck to keep her hidden.

Then came another announcement that men onboard who had brought dogs or monkeys on the ship needed to report to the ship’s office NOW.  Still feeling sick Bill made his way to the troop office and was surprised to see five other “guilty” men there.  

Bill retreated to his bunk and vowed to keep Smoky hidden.  But a US Navy officer looking for someone else discovered the dog.  The officer asked if the dog was registered to be on the ship. Bill said “no.”  An hour later he was called to report to the ship’s office.  Bill explained he was too sick to report earlier.  He showed pictures of Smoky entertaining the sick and wounded; the letter from the Red Cross thanking Bill and Smoky for helping the morale of patients in the hospital; and noted Smoky’s 1944 selection as “The Best Mascot of the Southwest Pacific Area.”  Bill was told he may have to pay a bond to bring the dog into the US and could be expected to pay up to $1,000 dollars to do so.  Bill said he would accept those terms.  Bill and the ship’s captain signed a document that cleared the ship of any responsibility for “one dog.”


“Declaration of Domestic Animal” document signed by Bill on November 4, 1945. US Army.

Smoky documentSmoky documentSmoky document

With Smoky officially recognized and out of hiding, Bill and Smoky put on some shows on the deck for the men.  Bill noticed that the ship’s captain and the troop commander would sometimes watch the show from the bridge and had smiles on their faces.  AND, everyday the sailors would bring Duke up from the hold to play with Smoky.

On November 13 the USS William H. Gordon docked in Seattle.  

Smoky and Bill’s story started to take on a life of its own after arriving in the US.  At one train stop on their way to Bill’s home in Ohio a man with the United Services Organization (USO) noticed Bill carrying Smoky.  After hearing their story someone called the Indianapolis Star.  The newspaper ran a story which was picked up by a wire service. 

Bill and Smoky arrived home in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 30, 1945.

Before leaving to go to war in 1943 Bill had given the love of his life, Margie Roberts, an engagement ring.  They were married September 28, 1946. 

A week after Bill arrived home the Cleveland Press asked to interview him.  On December 7, 1945, the paper ran a front page story headlined, “TINY DOG HOME FROM THE WAR.”  The New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun, and Herald America also published stories.

Smoky and Bill continued to entertain people after the war and performed at veterans’ hospitals, schools, orphanages, nursing homes, hospitals, and other organizations.  

From June to August 1946 Bill was hired by the Cleveland Zoo to be masters of ceremony for a traveling circus — with Smoky as one of the stars.  In October 1946 Bill and Margie went to Hollywood after hearing that then famous animal trainer, Rennie Renfro, was looking for an assistant to help him train dogs for motion pictures.  The job did not materialize, and they returned to Ohio where Bill took a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) [NACA would become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958.] as a member of a crew to test new de-icing equipment for aircraft.

In 1947 live television shows became popular.  One of the shows in Cleveland that Bill and Smoky became part of was a children’s show Castles in the Air.

In 1953 with a growing family Bill accepted a job with a Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer as a photographer; he would later become a writer/photographer (now called a photojournalist) and was associated with the paper for 31 years.  [Bill received many international, national, and local awards for his work as a photojournalist.  In 1973 Bill was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.]

When Bill returned home from work on February 21, 1957, he found Smoky in her bed; she had died in her sleep.  Bill said he was inconsolable.  Margie suggested they bury the little dog near “Our Tree.” [In 1940 on a bike ride though the Cleveland Metroparks System young Bill and Margie had carved their initials in a gray beech tree.] The next day, with their children, Bill and Margie found the tree, and with Smoky’s body in a shoebox they buried her. Their seven year old daughter, Susan, cried, “Daddy, Daddy, how is Smoky going to breathe?”  Bill, taken aback, told Susan that Smoky doesn’t need to breath anymore, she is in dog heaven. 

Josephine Robertson, a writer at The Plain Dealer, wrote an obituary for Smoky and told her wartime story.  The Wynne’s received a call from a local Cleveland woman after she read the obituary. Grace Guderian Heidenreich was a US Army nurse in New Guinea in early 1944.  Her fiancé, later her husband, had bought a Yorkshire Terrier for her from a veterinarian in Brisbane, Australia.  The dog was a Christmas holiday gift, so Grace named her “Christmas.” [“Christmas” was one of the words that got Smoky excited and turning in circles.]  When Grace attended a Bob Hope USO show in New Guinea, little “Christmas” disappeared.  She had photos of the dog to show Bill.  As the stories merged, Bill concluded that his little dog, found in a foxhole, was indeed one in the same.  How many Yorkshire Terriers in WWII were lost in the jungles of New Guinea?

Margie Wynne passed away in 2004.  They had raised nine children together.

In 2003 Bill was informed that a monument to honor Smoky would be placed near the beech tree in the Rocky River Reservation Metropolitan Park in Cleveland where Smoky was buried in 1947.  Bill searched for Smoky’s grave for hours and finally found the then fallen beech tree with its initials which led to finding the grave. Smoky’s remains were placed in a WWII .30 calibre ammunition case.  The monument marks Smoky’s grave and was unveiled on Veterans Day, November 11, 2005.  


The monument to Smoky and dogs of all wars in the Rocky River Reservation in Cleveland, Ohio. Photograph


Bill said that Smoky taught him much more than he had taught her.

On April 19, 2021, Bill Wynne passed away at the age of 99.


Smoky is recognized as the first documented therapy dog.  Her work began in 1944 in New Guinea and continued through WWII.  After seeing the effect that Smoky had on people, Bill and Smoky continued their work after WWII.

This is a selected list of remembrances of Smoky over the years since WWII: 

— Ohio Veterinary Medicine Association “Animal Hall of Fame,” Columbus, Ohio, 1995.

— Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.  The successor to the WWII 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was the 26th Air Space Intelligence Squadron which displayed Smoky’s memorabilia in 2003.

— The Imperial War Museum , London, England.  From November 2006 – May 2007 an “Animals of War Exhibit” displayed Smoky’s war blanket.

— Australian Defense Force Trackers and War Dogs Association awarded Smoky the “War Dog Operational Medal” in 2010.

— The World War II Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, displayed a bronze statue of Smoky in a helmet in 2010 as part of an exhibit to “Animals of War.”

— The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals “Certificate of Bravery and Devotion,” England, 2011.

— Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia, 2012.

— Australian War Dog Museum, Sydney, Australia, 2014.  Awarded the Australian “War Dog Medal.”  The award was backdated as the first combat medal to be awarded to a dog.

— Papua New Guinea, 2015.

— The Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “Purple Cross,” December 11, 2015.  The “Purple Cross” is a rare and high honor awarded to an animal war hero.  In 163 years, Smoky was only the tenth animal to receive this honor.



Dogs for Defense was a WWII program that many people may not be aware of at this point in time.  It was a military program started after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.  Pet owners were asked to donate their dogs to be used by the military for patrol and guard duties. For more information about this program see attached link Dogs for Defense.

For even more in-depth information and stories about Smoky, William A. Wynne’s book Yorkie Doodle Dandy (Or, The Other Woman Was A Real Dog) is a great book written by Smoky’s best friend.

Another wonderful book written in consultation with Bill Wynne is Smoky, the Dog That Saved My Life, The Bill Wynne Story by Nancy Roe Pimm.

WWII Italy: And the Story of 1938 Winner of the Tour de France Gino Bartali


Gino Bartali, winner of the 1938 Tour de France.  Photograph July 19, 1938.  Wikimedia Commons.


“Good is something you do, not something you talk about.  Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”  Gino Bartali


Overview of historical events in the WWII history of Fascist Italy as related to this story:

Benito Mussolini was dictator of Italy from 1925 – 1943.  He was known as  “Il Duce” (translated “the Leader”).

In 1938 German dictator Adolph Hitler visited Mussolini in Italy.  It was after this visit that Mussolini adopted anti-Jewish laws in Italy based upon Germany’s antisemitic and racist 1935 Nuremberg Laws which excluded Jews from many aspects of daily life. 

Hitler and Mussolini signed a military and political alliance on May 22, 1939, called the “Pact of Steel” (known formally as the “Pact of Friendship and Alliance”).

On September 1, 1939, WWII began with the German invasion of Poland.

Italy would join the WWII Axis countries of Germany and Japan on June 10, 1940.

Following the Allied successful invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, had Mussolini arrested on July 25, 1943, after the Grand Council of Fascism voted a motion of “no confidence” in him.  Mussolini was replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio.  

On September 8, 1943, at 5:30 p.m. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, from his location in Algiers, Algeria, announced a military armistice and termination of hostilities with Italy.

With the 1943 surrender of Italy, Hitler moved increasing numbers of German troops into Italy to seize control of the country and to fight the Allies.  With German occupation of the country Italian and refugee Jews received increased scrutiny and were rounded up and deported to German labor or concentration camps for likely extermination.  

Between 1939 and 1947 an organization the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants (DELASEM), composed of Italian and Jewish resistance groups, aided refugees and foreigners who were interned in Italy and provided support and avenues of emigration for them.  Their headquarters were in Genoa, Italy.  Main funding came through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society as well as monetary collections within Italy. The organization was legal in Italy until the September 8, 1943, surrender to the Allies.  Although illegal after that date, it continued to operate with the support of the Catholic Church. Between 1939 and 1943, DELASEM helped 9,000 Jewish refugees of which 5,000 were helped to leave Italy.

After Mussolini’s arrest he was confined to the island of Ponza, the largest island of the Italian Pontine Islands archipelago, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. He was moved to different locations the last of which was the Hotel Campo Imperatore located on a remote mountain plateau in northern Italy.  On September 12, 1943, Hitler sent a special team of German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos to rescue Mussolini.  The rescue was known as the Grand Sasso raid. With Hitler’s support Mussolini was set up in a puppet government, the Italian Social Republic, in Salò, Italy, which existed until the German surrender in May 1945.  On April 28, 1945, Mussolini and his mistress were caught trying to escape capture by the Allies and were executed by Italian partisans in the Piazzale Loreto, Milan, Italy.

WWII in Europe ended on May 8, 1945.


Gino Bartali. Photograph


Gino Bartali was an integral part of an Italian network in WWII that worked to save and protect Jews and war refugees.  His story is representative of the many Italian citizens, resistance and partisan members, and Catholic clergy who risked their own lives in those very dangerous times.

Gino Bartali was born July 18, 1914, in Ponte a Ema, Florence, Italy. He got a job in a bicycle shop and started bicycle racing when he was 13 years old.  After racing successfully as an amateur Gino turned professional at age 21 in 1935.

In 1936 and 1937 Gino won Italy’s top bicycle race the Giro d’ Italia (Tour of Italy).  In 1938 he won his first Tour de France.  He was under pressure to dedicate his victory in the Tour de France to Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.  When Gino refused, Mussolini forbad any celebration of his victory in Italy.

Italy joined the WWII Axis countries of Germany and Japan on June 10, 1940.  On October 9, 1940,  Gino was called to active military duty. Surprisingly, because of an irregular heartbeat which he knew about, the military doctor declared him unfit for duty as a regular soldier; Gino was assigned as an Italian Army messenger, and he rode a bicycle. 

Gino Bartali married Adrianna Bani in Florence on November 14, 1940.  Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa, the Archbishop of Florence, celebrated the wedding mass. Cardinal Dalla Costa was also an integral member of the network in WWII to save, protect, and hide Jews and other refugees from capture, possible execution, and deportation to a concentration camp such as Auschwitz where they would meet their death.

After the September 8, 1943, surrender of Italy to the Allies, Gino and thousands of other Italian men submitted paperwork and were discharged from the Italian Army.  

The hope of returning to a prewar life in Italy was not to be for two primary reasons:  (1) with the end of the country’s hostilities with the Allies, the German military increased its presence in Italy and took control of the areas previously controlled by Mussolini’s Fascist Army, and (2) after the American and British invaded Calabria and Salerno in southern Italy in September 1943, intense German resistance slowed and delayed the advance of the Allies northward.


Map of the WWII Italian Campaign, 1943 – 1945. Note dates of battles as the Allies progressed northward.  Map


In September 1943 Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa requested a meeting with Gino. He asked Gino to become part of an underground group known as the Assisi Network.  The group protected and hid Italian and non-Italian Jews, refugees, and partisans trying to escape capture by the Germans.  

What Gino provided the Assisi Network was a means to transport documents and photographs for false identity cards.  False identity cards were necessary for those in hiding to move around within Italy.  

On October 16, 1943, the Germans occupied Rome and began rounding up Jews.

Using his fame as a sports figure in Italy and Europe, Gino Bartali cycled around Italy on his bicycle with documents stuffed inside the frame and handlebars of his racing bicycle.  He wore his racing jersey with his name on it.  When he was recognized or questioned by those who saw him on the roads, Gino said he was “training” for races. Government officials had even given him a special permit for his movement through the Italian countryside.


Map to locate Gino Bartali’s routes through Italy as he delivered false identification paperwork.  Map


Gino would leave his home in Florence and might be gone for days at a time while he “trained.”  He sometimes cycled 250 miles a day and travelled as far as Genoa and Rome delivering needed documents for those in hiding. 

In Tuscany alone there were 26 Catholic monasteries and convents, some of them cloistered, that sheltered Jews and refugees.  The Assisi Network was only one of the networks in Italy providing protection.  The networks tried to operate independently so as not to put each other in danger should they be discovered.


Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy. Photograph


The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Italy’s Umbria region played a major role in the rescue effort.  It provided a hiding place for more than 300 Jews.  Father Rufino Niccacci, the Father Guardian of the Franciscan Monastery of San Damiano in Assisi, organized the effort to hide Jews fleeing from the Germans and to provide them with false identity cards.

Of importance in Assisi was a print shop next to the Basilica.  Luigi Brizi and his son, Trento, printed false identification papers at great danger to themselves.

Some false identification papers intentionally used the real first letters of a person’s first and last name.  The reason — if asked to write their name on a document at some point, it could protect and remind them of their false identity if they nervously and automatically started to write their true name.

But not all attempts to rescue Jews and other refugees ended well. On September 1, 1944, German troops of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division stormed into a Carthusian monastery, the Certosa di Farneta, in Tuscany.  One hundred and fifty clergy and others were arrested.  Forty-nine of the prisoners were killed by firing squad.  The others were sent to labor camps.  Six monks and six lay brothers were shot.  Among those killed was Father Gabriele Maria Costa;  he was a friend of Gino Bartali.  

Gino Bartali’s fame was also used in different situations.  Approximately half way between Florence and Rome is a town called Terontola.  The town train station was important during WWII as it provided a railway connection between north and south Italy.  It was heavily guarded by the Germans.  It was also an important point where Jews and refugees traveling to the liberated south of Italy would change trains.  Gino knew partisans in the area, and they developed a plan. Gino would go to the railway station and boldly make it known that a “great cycling champion” was there.  He attracted crowds of people who wanted to see him and get his autograph.  The commotion caught the attention of the German guards who left their posts to disperse the crowd.  With the distraction in place, refugees were able to transfer trains without the Germans seeing them.

[After the long and hard fought battle at Monte Cassino (January 17 – May 18, 1944), the Americans moved north and liberated Rome on June 5, 1944.  The celebration of the liberation of Rome was short lived in the press since the next day, June 6, the Allies landed at Normandy, France.]

After almost a year of  his secret activities and with many bicycle races being cancelled, his excuse for “training” was questioned by some people.  In July 1944 Gino was interrogated at Florence’s Villa Triste (“House of Sorrow”) where Fascist agents would question and torture their prisoners.   A former Italian Army commander of Gino’s vouched for his innocence, and he was released.

[On August 11, 1944, the Allies liberated Florence and moved northward.  The WWII Italian Campaign ended on May 2, 1945.]

Gino Bartali is recognized for saving about 800 Jews during WWII. Four of the Jews he saved were friends hidden in the cellar of his home.  


Gino Bartali’s Jewish friend Giacomo Goldenberg with his wife, Elvira, and their two children Giorgio and Tea hid in the cellar of Gino’s home in Florence.  Photograph Road to Valor book.


After WWII Gino Bartali resumed bicycle racing.  In 1948 he won the Tour de France for the second time.


Gino Bartali doing a victory lap after winning the 1948 Tour de France.  Photograph


Gino Bartali died on May 5, 2000, in Florence.  He didn’t talk about his exploits in WWII until later in life when he began to slowly and quietly share his WWII experiences with his son, Andrea.

On July 7, 2013, Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem, Israel, recognized Gino Bartali as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for his work to save Jews in WWII.   

Gino Bartali remained humble about his WWII work with the Assisi Network.  If he was called a hero, he would say, “Real heroes are … those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones.  Those are the real heroes.  I’m just a cyclist.”



Others mentioned in this story who received recognition as Righteous Among the Nations were Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa in 2012, Father Rufino Niccacci in 1974, and Luigi and Trento Brizi in 1997.

Excellent sources for more in-depth information about the life of Gino Bartali include the book Road to Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon and the documentary My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes of the Holocaust.  An informative book for younger readers is Bartali’s Bicycle by Megan Hoyt and Iacopo Bruno.

The Unsung Heroes of the US Merchant Marine in WWII: And the Story of Convoy PQ-17


Life-Line of Freedom – the Merchant Marine poster. Artist: Paul Sample. National Archives.



The United States (US) Merchant Marine Act of 1936 stated, “It is necessary for the national defense… that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency…”

In the late 1930s with the US foreseeing an approaching involvement in WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered US shipyards to build ships that would be needed in the conflict and established the US Maritime Service which was responsible for training merchant mariners and the men of the US Army Transport Service.

The Merchant Marine was a commercial, non-military fleet of ships that was effectively nationalized by the US government in WWII. The men of the Merchant Marine were civilian volunteers. 

The Merchant Marine ships had limited defensive capabilities. Guns, to provide a defense for the ships and crews, were placed onboard merchant ships and manned by the US Navy Armed Guard which was a special unit of Navy military personnel at that time.  

On March 11, 1941, President Roosevelt signed into law An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, more commonly known as the Lend-Lease Act, which was a program through which the US sent food, oil and fuel, supplies, equipment, and war materiel to England, countries of the British Commonwealth, China, the Free French, other Allied nations, and the Soviet Union.  

On December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan after the surprise attack December 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, US Territory of Hawaii.  

The ships of the US Merchant Marine in WWII sailed around the world to deliver troops, supplies, food, aircraft, gasoline, oil, guns, shells, vehicles, tanks, bombs, ammunition, medicine, equipment, and needed materiel for war.  It played a critical, logistical role in the war. 

In addition to enemy warships, aircraft, and submarine attacks, the Merchant Marine vessels faced the perils of weather, icebergs, rough seas, mines, sharks, and in the Pacific Theater Japanese “kamikaze” attacks.


Battle of the Atlantic (September 3, 1939 – May 8, 1945).

After Italy joined the Axis countries on June 10, 1940, submarines of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) worked with Germany to interrupt and stop the Allied flow of supplies to areas of conflict.

The Allied forces of the US, Canada, Britain, Norway, and Brazil would fight against the warships, submarines, and aircraft of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine), the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), and the Italian Royal Navy. 

The most dangerous time during this campaign was from 1940 to the end of 1943 with resulting staggering losses of merchant vessels and other convoy ships.  

It was the longest military campaign of WWII.  


Ship Convoys.

The convoy system was intended to protect Allied merchant ships sailing during wartime.  Before the US entered WWII, convoys bound for British ports were escorted from convoy assembly points at Halifax and Sydney,  Nova Scotia, Canada, by the Royal Canadian Navy to a location in the mid-Atlantic Ocean where the British Royal Navy would meet and escort the convoy to its destination.  The US Navy provided convoy escorts after December 7, 1941. 

Merchant ships were grouped in the center of a convoy formation with warships, aircraft, and submarines surrounding and guarding the ships. During WWII there were over 300 convoy routes around the world.  Each convoy would have a two or three letter code indicating destination and convoy speed.  A convoy could only go as fast as the slowest ship in the convoy.  


The Arctic Convoys (August 1941 – May 1945). 

After Germany attacked Russia on June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union joined the Allies.  Joseph Stalin, the ruler of the Soviet Union, was in desperate need of military equipment and supplies to fight the Nazis.  The British began sending supplies and war materiel to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk.  The first convoy from England would arrive in Archangelsk on August 31, 1941.  Convoys to Russia would continue until the end of the war.


Allied Arctic Sea convoy routes WWII. Map


Three primary routes used to send supplies from the US to Russia in WWII. Map US Department of State November 28, 1945.


The shortest and fastest route for convoys to Russia was the Arctic Sea route.


Besides the dangers of Axis submarines, warships, and aircraft there were rough seas, frigid temperatures, icebergs, and ice sheets, and ice buildup on the ships. Ice buildup on ships could make the ships “top heavy” and prone to rolling over. Photograph


Also making the Arctic route dangerous was the German military occupation of Norway on April 9, 1940, which provided close proximity to Allied convoys in the Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Sea, and the Barents Sea.


Arctic Convoy PQ-17.

PQ-17 was the first combined Anglo-American naval operation of WWII under British command.


Convoy PQ-17 escort and merchant ships assembling at Hvalfjörður, Iceland. Photograph Naval History and Heritage Command.


Convoy PQ-17 under the command of British Commodore John Dowding set sail on June 27, 1942, from Hvalfjörður, Iceland, with a destination of Archangelsk, Russia.  

[One of the ships providing PQ-17 protection was an American destroyer the United States Ship (USS) Wichita.  Hollywood actor and US Navy Reserve Officer Douglas Fairbanks, Junior, was a member of the crew.]


A German Luftwaffe BV 138 reconnaissance plane photograph of PQ-17 on or about July 1, 1942. Photograph Naval History and Heritage Command.


A German submarine U-456 sighted and would follow convoy PQ-17 shortly after it left Iceland on June 27, 1942.

The first merchant ship, the Liberty ship Steamship (SS) Christopher Newport, was sunk on the morning of July 4 by a German torpedo bomber Heinkel HE 115.  On that same day, a US destroyer the USS Wainwright, part of the covering force for PQ-17, repulsed an attack on the convoy by German torpedo bombers.  On July 4 German torpedo bombers also sank the Liberty ship SS William Hooper.  

Back in London, England, on July 4, a decision was made that would decide the fate of PQ-17.

The First Sea Lord and Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pound was notified by Swedish intelligence that German ships including the battleship Tirpitz had left Norway to intercept Convoy PQ-17.  He consulted with Lieutenant Commander Norman Denning, an intelligence analyst with the Operational Intelligence Center for the Royal Navy, who did not detect any German ship movements at that time nor did he find any radio traffic, messages from the Norwegian Resistance, or any other threat to support the rumor of the sailing of the Tirpitz.  

Despite conflicting information about the Tirpitz, Admiral Pound ordered PQ-17 protection  ships to withdraw at high speed westward (to repulse the German ships?) and ordered the remaining ships in the convoy to “scatter” and make their own way to Russian ports.

Convoy PQ-17 was abandoned when the close and distant Allied convoy protection ships were ordered to detach from the convoy.  The merchant ships were left to plan their individual routes to Russia with ship compasses that were sometimes inaccurate in that part of the world.  It was summer in the Arctic; there was no place to “hide in the dark” because there was no darkness at that time of the year. And the ships had limited defensive capabilities.

The Germans, surprised at what happened, took advantage of every opportunity to sink the merchant vessels.  The Tirpitz did leave Norway on July 5 to intercept PQ-17 but returned to port that same day because German bombers and submarines had already been very successful in destroying the convoy.


PQ-17 ship losses. Map


Of the 35 merchant ships that left Iceland, only 11 would eventually reach a port in Russia.  One hundred and fifty-three merchant mariners were lost.

In addition to men and ships, it was reported that war materiel, equipment, and supplies lost included 200 aircraft, 3,300 trucks, 435 tanks, and other war supplies that could equip 50,000 men.  

Stalin was said to be angry and unable to understand how such a disaster could happen and questioned why convoy protection was removed.  This incident would drive a wedge of distrust between the Soviet Union and the Allies.

The Arctic supply route was halted temporarily as convoy plans were studied.  On September 2, 1942, Convoy PQ-18 left Loch Ewe, Scotland, and sailed with additional escort ships to provide protection.


Story of WWII Merchant Mariner Frank E. Scott. 

Frank Edward Scott.  Oral History Interview for the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, on October 25, 2010. He was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas.


Merchant mariner Frank E. Scott, circa 1943. Photograph courtesy  of the Frank Scott family.


Frank Scott was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on May 9, 1925. He had two brothers, Dale and Quincy.  In 1936 his family moved to San Antonio, Texas.  He was playing touch football on December 7, 1941, when he heard about the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  

After graduating from Brackenridge High School in San Antonio in 1943 Frank went to the Merchant Marine Recruiting Office in the city to volunteer for service.  

Frank travelled to a Maritime Service base in St. Petersburg, Florida, for basic merchant seaman training in August 1943.  The training staff at the base found out he had taught swimming in San Antonio and asked him to stay on and teach survival swimming to recruits.  There was no pool at the school at the time so Frank taught new recruits survival skills in the Gulf of Mexico.  Two of the survival skills he taught were how to make a life jacket from trousers and how to jump off a tower into the water which simulated jumping from a ship.

January 3, 1944, the SS Washita.  Frank’s first assignment at sea was on the oil tanker SS Washita.  The tanker travelled in a convoy of about 200 ships to Swansea in Wales, England.  The convoy was not attacked, but at that time in the war the Atlantic route was less threatened by German submarines.  The Washita travelled back to the US, and Frank was discharged on February 2, 1944, upon fulfillment of his contract.      

[At this period of time in WWII troops and supplies were being stockpiled in England in preparation for the closely guarded secret of the Normandy, France, invasion planned for June of 1944.]

[The Merchant Marine being a non-military organization had different requirements regarding its crews.  A merchant seaman signed a contract to serve on a specific ship which may make one or more trips to various destinations.  Upon completion of the contract he had the choice to sign  another contact.  If he did not sign another contract within 30 days, he became eligible for the military draft.]

April 20, 1944, the Liberty ship SS Samuel Mcintyre.  After a visit with his family in San Antonio, Frank signed his second contract and sailed on a cargo ship the Liberty ship SS Samuel Mcintyre.  He would serve almost 9 months on this ship. The ship’s captain who Frank estimated to be around 65 years old was from Scotland and had been called back into service out of retirement. 

Job responsibilities and life aboard a merchant ship.

In his interview Frank spoke of his job and duties on a ship.

–  A  seaman’s duties included deck work, painting, standing watch, steering the ship, among other responsibilities.

–  Schedules for standing watch were midnight to 4 am, 4 am – 8 am, 8 am – 12 noon, and so forth.  One third of the crew would be on watch at any one time; a watch schedule was four hours on and eight hours off.  It was difficult to sleep between standing watch duties when traveling in the Northern Atlantic because of the long periods of daylight.

–  Tankers took about three days to unload, and cargo ships could take two to four weeks to unload.  When unloading in port, they may work for 24 hours straight. 

–  Weather was always a factor.  Storms could reek havoc on ships and convoys.

–  Crews could average around 40 – 50 merchant mariners and about 35 Navy Armed Guard.

–  Typical gun placements on merchant ships were five inch guns on the bow, eight inch long range guns on the stern, and a dozen or so anti-aircraft guns.  

–  Barrage balloons were sometimes used to deter German aircraft from attacking a ship.

–  When leaving the US the crew didn’t always know the ship’s destination.  If the destination was the Arctic or Northern Atlantic, cold weather gear and clothing was handed out after about 24 hours at sea.

–  If ships in a convoy were sunk, destroyers or dedicated rescue ships would pick up survivors, if possible.

Frank’s experiences on the SS Samuel Mcintyre.

Frank would sometimes take over steering the ship when a particular seaman got shaky or nervous in rough seas.  That seaman had survived the sinking of five ships.

On a voyage to Cardiff, England, the ship had a closely guarded P-51 Mustang fighter plane on the deck, along with tanks, and in preparation for the invasion of Normandy hundreds of full five gallon gas cans cabled to the deck.  

After the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the Samuel Mcintyre did “shuttle runs” from Cardiff to Omaha Beach with needed supplies and equipment.  

From July 15 – August 31, 1944, the Samuel Mcintyre was anchored off Omaha Beach with a loaded ship awaiting the Allied capture of Cherbourg, France. 

[As the Allies advanced towards Germany additional ports and supply lines were needed.  The focus was on the port of Antwerp, Belgium, and the Scheldt River.  Antwerp was captured by the British on September 4, 1944.  The West and East Scheldt Estuary were still held by the Germans.  The Battle of the Scheldt (October – November 1944) fought by Canadian, Polish, and British units resulted in an Allied victory on November 8.


Battle of the Scheldt October – November 1944. Map US Army.


After the Scheldt was swept for mines, the first convoy carrying Allied supplies unloaded in Antwerp on November 29, 1944.]

The SS Samuel McIntyre was one of the first ships to arrive in Antwerp.  Frank said it took about four weeks to unload the ship. While on watch he would sometimes see flares from German artillery being fired into Antwerp as the Germans were still in the area.

[Cine Rex, De Keyserlei 15, Antwerp, Belgium.  On December 16, 1944, (the first day of the Battle of the Bulge) a V-2 rocket was fired from the German SS Werfer Battery in Hellendoorn, The Netherlands. The rocket landed on the roof of the Cine Rex movie theater at 3:20 pm. Of the over 1,000 people inside, 567 people including 296 Allied servicemen were killed in the explosion.  It was the highest death toll in WWII from a single rocket.

The American movie The Plainsman was playing at the theater that day.]

The Samuel McIntyre left Antwerp and sailed back to the US in late December.  Frank was discharged January 11, 1945.

The Scott family Christmas card for 1944 celebrated the military service of the three Scott brothers and Quincy’s wife, Dottie.  They would all return home after WWII.


Left to right: Dale Scott, Frank Scott, and Quincy Scott with Dottie Scott in the foreground. Photograph courtesy of the Frank Scott family.


March 6, 1945, the SS Emile N. Vidal, one of the concrete ships of WWII.  Frank signed on the SS Emile N. Vidal in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He would have back-to-back sailings on this ship.  The ship would sail in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to ports which included Cuba and Puerto Rico.  One of the supplies transported on this ship was sugar.

[The US government in WWII contracted with McCloskey and Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to construct 24 self-propelled concrete ships at a time when steel resources for shipbuilding were scarce.  The ships were built in Tampa, Florida, starting in July 1943 at the Hookers Point shipyard at a rate of one per month.  They were named after pioneers in the development and science of concrete.  

The government also contracted the building of concrete barges with companies in California.  The barges lacked engines to propel them and had to be towed.]

Merchant mariner Alfred “Al” G. Booth, a good friend of Frank’s from San Antonio, Texas, was also a crew member on this voyage. 


Merchant mariner Alfred G. Booth, circa 1943. Al had a twin brother, Walter, who was in the US Navy in WWII. Photograph courtesy of the Al Booth family.
Frank, on left, with Al Booth. When back in San Antonio between contracts Frank and Al would meet and exchange stories. Photograph courtesy of the Al Booth family.


Frank was discharged on April 9, 1945.

April 10, 1945, the SS Emile N. Vidal.  Frank and Al would sail a second time on this ship and were discharged May 21, 1945.

July 21,1945, the Liberty ship SS Beckley Seam.  Frank, Al, and another fellow San Antonio native, merchant mariner William McCollough, were members of the crew.

The Beckley Seam delivered coal to Savona, Italy, and was still in the Mediterranean Sea when it was announced that WWII had ended.

During Frank’s interview with the National Museum of the Pacific War he proudly showed me a photograph he had taken of the American flag on the SS Beckley Seam


Frank Scott’s photograph caption: STARS AND STRIPES ON THE US MERCHANT VESSEL “BECKLEY SEAM” SOMEWHERE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA, AUGUST 1945.  We three were there.  Al Booth, Bill McCollough, and Frank Scott. Photograph courtesy of Frank Scott.



The US Merchant Marine did not have a centralized record-keeping system in WWII, and because of that, the estimates of merchant seamen losses vary significantly.  During WWII there were about 250,000 civilian merchant mariners.  A total estimate of merchant seamen and officers that went missing or were killed varies from 5,662 to over 9,000.  An estimated 12,000 men were wounded, and over 600 became prisoners of war.  

A total of 1,554 merchant ships were sunk in WWII according to the War Shipping Administration.  

Merchant seamen were not included in the postwar Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill, nor did they qualify to receive other military benefits due to their civilian status. It wasn’t until 1988 that WWII merchant seamen were recognized officially as veterans.




Frank Scott commented during his interview that the 1943 movie Action in the Atlantic was close to his actual wartime experiences.

Frank Scott’s brother, Quincy, came home from WWII with his own war story while assigned to the US Navy destroyer USS Borie in the Atlantic.  On November 1, 1943, the Borie rammed German submarine U-405, which had surfaced.  The two ships were locked together with the bow of the Borie resting on the foredeck of the submarine.  Until the two ships were able to separate, the Borie and U-405 exchanged small arms fire at close range.  Both the Borie and U-405 would be lost in this incident.  Survivors of the Borie were rescued by the escort carrier USS Card.

Four WWII merchant mariners that went into acting after the war were James Garner, Peter Falk, Carroll O’Connor, and Jack Lord.

A very special thank you to Frank Scott’s wife, Helen, and to Al Booth’s wife, Maureen, for providing photographs and documents related to this story.

Thank you to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, and museum archivist Chris McDougal for providing information related to this story.  The oral history interview of Frank Scott is in the museum archive.