THEY THAT GO DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS
“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.”
Walt Disney Cartoon during World War II
They that do business in great waters face great dangers as a part of their chosen vocation. For that
reason, it was fitting that President George W. Bush addressed the cadets of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York. The Cadets of the Class of June 2006 were the first to be so
addressed by a President of these United States of America. In his speech before the cadets, he said:
“Life at this Academy is demanding -- and it is meant to be. America is a great maritime power, and our
Merchant Marine has a vital role to play. In times of peace, the Merchant Marine helps ensure our economic security by keeping the oceans open to trade. In times of war, the Merchant Marine is the
lifeline of our troops overseas, carrying critical supplies, equipment, and personnel. For more than six decades, the mission of this Academy has been to graduate highly skilled mariners to serve America's
economic and national security needs. To train you for these responsibilities, this Academy sharpens your mind, it strengthens your body, and builds up your character. The Academy has made you strong
and instilled respect for the Kings Point motto -- Acta Non Verba -- "Deeds, Not Words."
"Deeds, Not Words" was the hallmark of this Academy in World War II. In the early years of the war, America's efforts to supply our allies in Europe were threatened by the U-boats that were sinking
American ships faster than we could build them. The need to arm and defend our merchant ships was urgent, and King Pointers answered the call. One of them was an 18-year-old named Edwin O'Hara,
whose statue stands not far from here. In September 1942, Cadet O'Hara was serving on the USS Stephen Hopkins when it came under attack from two Nazi raiders. After the entire gun crew of the
Hopkins was killed by enemy fire, O'Hara singlehandedly served and fired the last five shells in the ready box, scoring direct hits on the German warship Stier. Cadet O'Hara was mortally wounded in the
action, but not before he helped send the Stier to the bottom of the South Atlantic.
Edwin O'Hara is one of 142 Academy graduates who gave their lives in the second world war. Today
Kings Point is still the only one of our five service academies that sends its students into the theaters of war -- and for that reason, it is the only Academy authorized to fly a Battle Standard.”
The fact that no American President had addressed a graduating class at Kings Point was not lost on me.
All my life I had chaffed at the way this Nation had treated those who had served in the U. S. Merchant Marine during wartime.
My father, Able Seaman (AB) Herman W. Reuss
was killed by enemy action on July 13, 1942. He was sailing on the Esso Tanker R. W. Gallagher when the German U-Boat U-67
fired two torpedoes into her starboard side.
AB Herman “Cap” Reuss on the right in rolled up sleeves. Photo taken before the
war while serving on the “Relief” a lighthouse ship at Ambrose Light in NY
The ship was attacked as it passed Ship Shoal Buoy located about 80 miles from Southwest Pass, Mississippi River. That is in the Gulf of Mexico just South of New Orleans. It is not a well known
fact that we lost hundreds of ships in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The German Kriegsmarine
had sent many U-Boats over the Atlantic after Pearl Harbor. The first U-Boats found that America was not prepared for war. The U-67 commanded by Korvettencapitan Gunther Muller-Stockheim was one of those submarines. Records of the Kreigsmarine show that the captain
of the U-67 had sunk over 50,000 tons of shipping.
The R.W. Gallagher was armed with a 5 inch gun in the stern, and 3 inch gun forward, with two .50
calibre machine guns on the bridge, and two .50 calibre machine guns aft. The pieces were manned by a 12 man US Navy Armed Guard
. Members of the Merchant Marine crew were also trained to assist the Navy gunners if needed. The ship was traveling in dangerous waters alone and unescorted. In the
early years of the war, there weren’t enough destroyer escorts to service the growing American merchant fleet.
The two torpedoes struck the ship amidships and damaged the bridge killing the Chief Mate and the Second Mate, Frederick Austin. The account of the attack on the R.W. Gallagher is recounted in the book “Ships of the Esso Fleet in World War II”,
published by Standard Oil Company, New Jersey, Copyright 1946. It is also recalled in the book “A Careless Word, A Needless Sinking” written by Captain Arthur R. Moore.
The R.W. Gallagher was mortally wounded and capsized within an hour of the attack. The 80,000
barrels of oil burned furiously around her until she sank to the bottom a few hours later. Nine merchant seaman were lost in that action:
Chief Mate Alexander S. Krass
Second Mate: Frederick Austin
First Assistant: John J. Smart
Able Seaman Herman W. Reuss
Able Seaman Daniel C. MacPhee
Machinist James C. Kennedy
Oiler Leonard E. Mills
Wiper Henry P. Miller
2nd Cook Peles Donoyoso
Two members of the US Navy Armed Guard were also killed as a result of the attack:
Gunners Mate 3rd Class John Nibouar
Seaman 2nd Class Vincent Philipe Timpano
The War Shipping Administration sent my mother a telegram notifying her about my father being
missing in action. When the War was over, she was presented with the Mariner’s Medal in recognition of his death as a result of enemy action. I have that medal and
keep it with his other medals. The US Merchant Mariners in World War II served under the jurisdiction of the US Coast Guard. Recently, Congress gave recognition
to those who served in the Merchant Marine during wartime and awarded them veteran’s status. This was long overdue. During World War II alone, Over 7,000
seamen were lost at sea while serving on more than 800 American ships that were sunk by enemy action. There were many who opposed granting US Merchant
Seamen veteran’s status. I have always wondered at this since I was a boy. Those who served on the t ankers and freighters carrying high explosives and gasoline to our
troops overseas were truly frontline veterans of the war. They faced the attacks of the U-Boats and death in freezing waters of the North Atlantic or at the hands of the
Japanese in the Pacific. I often wondered who opposed them being granted veteran’s status. How many so-called “veterans” served as clerks or in other non-combat duties here Stateside
during the war and never hear a shot fired in anger?
Able Seaman (AB) Herman “Cap” Reuss grew up on Staten Island and married my mom, Margaret
“Peggy” Bennett. They had four children. I am the youngest. We lived in Stapleton, Staten Island until my Dad was lost in action. Before the war, he had served in the CCC camps until he got his
seaman’s papers. During the 1930s, he served in the old U.S. Lighthouse Service on the lighthouse ship “Relief”.
That ship was used to alternate with the “Ambrose” Lightship at the entrance to New York Harbor.
After Pearl Harbor, the threat of U-Boats caused the Coast Guard to bring both lightships into St. George, Staten Island. My father then shipped out with Esso Standard Oil for the dangerous trip to
Texas and back. The R. W. Gallagher wasn’t a lucky ship.
A visit to the US Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, New York
is a trip to remember. When visiting the Chapel that overlooks Long Island Sound and City Island, you will see a large log
book in front of the church. In that log book are listed the names of all US Merchant Seamen who lost their lives in action during wartime. It is written in calligraphy and a printed copy can be viewed by
visitors. Each day, a cadet opens the sealed case containing the handwritten log and turns to the next
page before resealing the case. My father’s name is written in that log and I take great pride in knowing that my family name is honored in such a way. In the words of the Administrator of the War Shipping Administration E. S. Land:
“Nothing I can do or say will, in any sense, requite the loss of your loved one. He has gone, but
he has gone in honor and in the goodly company of patriots. Let me, in the expression of the country’s deep sympathy, also express to you its gratitude for his devotion and sacrifice.”
To read more about the US Merchant Marine, visit http://www.usmm.org/
Copyright 2006 Edward D. Reuss
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