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Remembering those who served before.

Every war has its share of unsung heroes--those individuals who risk their lives daily in the service of their country. Their exploits are seldom heard; and yet without their service, the victories might not have been possible, the war not won.

Too often, when we gather to commemorate the contributions of the servicemen and women of World War II, we forget to mention those unsung heroes of the day--the transporters who got the supplies and equipment overseas to the warfighters.

That was not the case May 22, when the Merchant Mariners of World War II were remembered at a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial, Washington, D. C. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta honored the merchant mariners who lost their lives in service to the nation.

Of the 158,900 individuals in the Merchant Marines at war's end, 6,185 mariners had lost their lives in service to their country.

Among those who survived was Booker T. Brooks, who sailed with the Merchant Marines from 1943 to 1948, serving in the Mediterranean and Atlantic theaters during the war.

Brooks worked aboard the Liberty and Victory ships, as well as fuel tankers. He shipped out as an ordinary seaman, worked his way up to an able seaman, then completed studies at New London, Conn., to become a chief bosun's mate.

His most significant service was participating in the supply of the D-Day invasion force. He was aboard a turbo-electric tanker carrying high-octane gasoline in a convoy of ships that departed New York and sailed directly to Cherbourg, France.

"The first port we sailed into was pretty badly torn up, the troops were still fighting there--about twenty miles away," said Brooks.

The normal crossing was one month over and a month back for the turbo tankers. Brooks worked on different ships with various types of cargo. During the Battle of Britain, the ship carried P51 Fighter Aircraft as deck cargo.

Also aboard the ship were half-track vehicles headed to England for the D-Day invasion.

"We spent some sixty days at anchor, up in the northern part of England, waiting for the invasion," said Brooks.

The crew aboard a Liberty ship usually consisted of 45 civilian merchant seamen and 41 U.S. Navy personnel manning the ship's guns for defense.

"It would normally take about two weeks to unload the cargo from the Liberty and Victory ships," said Brooks. "Soldiers unloaded the military equipment the way the half-tracks and airplanes and civilian stevedores unloaded the general cargo."

Reflecting on the dangers of the service, and those who perished at sea, Brooks remarked:

"I just thank God that I survived. You never knew. When you're aboard a ship during a war, your number could be up at any time. We were attacked on several occasions."

During one Atlantic crossing in 1944, Brook's convoy was attacked by the U-boat 550, and a tanker, the Pan Pennsylvania, was sunk.

"I can remember the sound and the feeling of the depth charges as they exploded. It was all very exciting for a young man of my age at the time, and yet there were moments of high stress," said Brooks.

The tradition of service continues. Now it is time for a younger generation to take up the task. Talking to a young mariner, Mr. Elliot Johnson, Brooks commented on the service and the times.

"I had to wait sixty-five days for a vessel when I first shipped out. They really did not want African-Americans in the deck department; they wanted us to be stewards. I am happy to see that things have changed."

Brooks was amazed at the salary now paid a young seamen--$4,500 per month.

"I can't believe it! When I was in the service, we made $87.50 a month, and when we went into the war zones we got double that. Could you get me a nice cushy job like watching the compass?" joked Brooks.
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Title Annotation:honoring Merchant Marines of World War II
Author:Bellafaire, Mike
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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