U.S. Merchant Marine Heroes awarded Distinguished Service Medals for manning the guns in battle: "For distinguished service in the line of duty"

*Awarded posthumously


Edward E. Johnson, Master
Albert Milbourne, Chief Mate
Dale P. Baird, Second Mate
Allan Bell Currie, Third Mate
Fred C. Archibald, Chief Steward
John R. Haffard, Able Seaman


SS Admiral Halstead 2/19/42 to 2/26/42
For eighteen months the ship in which they were serving operated in the Southwest Pacific under especially hazardous conditions, as it was at all times in the danger zone, unescorted, and only lightly armed. In an attack on Port Darwin, [Australia] and on the nine succeeding days, when most of the crew had left the ship, the Captain and four officers and men, manned the two machine guns, and so successfully defended the ship that it was the only one of twelve merchant vessels in the harbor not destroyed.


Edward D. Geddes, Master
SS Heffron
7/5/42.
His ship, SS Heffron, was in an early Russia bound convoy [PQ-16] which, for six days and nights, was subjected to continuous submarine and air attacks. Hemmed in by ice packs the convoy was forced to run the gauntlet under the severest weather conditions. The ship was without defense armament except for two .30 caliber machine guns. Enemy planes often came within 100 feet of the ship but were fought off by the fine direction of the light armament. Thrice he out-maneuvered aerial torpedoes and once evaded a torpedo fired by a submarine. In face of all the enemy could do in the air, on the surface, and under the sea, his expert seamanship and the magnificent discipline of his crew brought the ship to her destination.

Clyde Neil Andrews, Second Mate
SS Heffron

The ship upon which he served was without defense armament, except for two 30 caliber machine guns, mounted without protective shielding, on the bridge [Convoy PQ-16 to Murmansk, Russia]. During six days of continuous attack, Andrews manned one of these guns, and aided in successfully standing off numerous dive-bombing attacks. On one occasion, while picking up survivors from another vessel, two enemy bombers attacked within a hundred feet of his ship. Andrews' position was sprayed with machine gun bullets -- his life jacket was nearly torn off by the enemy's fire--but he continued to pour bullets into the nose of the nearest dive-bomber, causing it to lift from its dive and over-shoot with a string of four bombs.

Edward M. Fetherston, Third Mate
SS Heffron

During six days of continuous attack Fetherston manned one of these guns and aided in successfully standing-off numerous dive-bombing attacks. On one occasion, while picking up survivors from another ship, two enemy bombers attacked within a hundred feet of his ship. Fetherston's position was heavily sprayed with machine gun bullets from the attacking planes, but he continued to pour bullets into the nose of the nearest dive-bomber causing it to lift from its dive and over-shoot with a string of four bombs.



Maurice Breen, Purser
SS Sahale
9/12 to 9/18/42
Early in the war, his ship was in a British port when ordered to join a convoy to Russia [PQ-18]. Additional guns were mounted on the ship for this highly dangerous run, and the gun commander called for volunteers from the merchant seamen to man them. Breen volunteered -- received a British Merchant Navy A/A Gunnery Certificate after only two days instruction--and was put in charge of a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the bridge. He stood regular watches at all times, and served his gun throughout a six days running battle with enemy submarines, bombing planes, and torpedo planes.... On one occasion, a low-level Heinkel bomber came in to attack a ship close on the port beam. On the alert, and before other guns could be brought to bear, he gave the plane a lead and brought his line of fire into its line of flight. The plane's starboard engine burst into flame; then exploded, and the bomber was seen to crash into the sea a few seconds later.

Paul Buck*, Master
SS Stephen Hopkins
9/27/42
Two enemy surface raiders suddenly appeared out of the mist to attack the small merchantman in which he was serving as Master. Heavy guns of one raider pounded his ship, and machine gun fire from the other sprayed her decks. He skillfully maneuvered his ship so that the heavier guns could be trained on the raider, and under his supervision his ship exchanged shot for shot with the enemy until the crew of one raider was forced to abandon its sinking ship, and the other enemy ship was forced to withdraw.

Joseph E. Layman*, Second Mate
SS Stephen Hopkins
9/27/42
Layman, who was in charge of the two 37 mm guns forward, put shell after shell into the larger raider and courageously maintained the fire until all his shell handlers were killed and the gun platform wrecked.

Edwin Joseph O'Hara*, Engine Cadet-Midshipman
SS Stephen Hopkins
9/27/42
The gun commander was mortally wounded early in the action, and all of the gun crew were killed or wounded when an enemy shell exploded the magazine of their gun. At the explosion, O'Hara ran aft and single-handedly served and fired the damaged gun with five live shells remaining in the ready box, scoring direct hits near the waterline of the second raider. O'Hara was mortally wounded in this action. With boilers blown up, engines destroyed, masts shot away, and ablaze from stem to stern, the gallant merchantman finally went under carrying O'Hara and several of his fighting shipmates with her.

Note: U. S. Merchant Marine Academy, only federal service academy to have war dead as their service called for training duty aboard USMM vessels. Only federal service academy authorized to carry a Battle Standard. 142 cadet-midshipmen of the Academy paid the extreme sacrifice for their country.


Francis A. Dales, Deck Cadet-Midshipman
SS Santa Elisa
8/11 to 8/15/42
His ship was a freighter carrying drums of high-octane gasoline, one of two American ships, in a small British convoy to Malta. Orders were to "get through at all costs". Heavily escorted, the convoy moved into the Mediterranean, and before noon of that day the enemy's attack began. From then on the entire convoy was under constant attack from Axis planes and submarines. Assigned the command of an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the bridge, Dales contributed to the successful defense of his ship for three days. At 4:00 A.M. on the morning of the fourth day, torpedo boats succeeded in breaking through and two attacked from opposite sides. Sneaking in close under cover of the darkness one opened point-blank fire on Dales's position with four .50 caliber machine guns, sweeping the bridge and killing three of his gun crew in the first bursts. The other sent its deadly torpedo into the opposite side of the freighter. Neither the heavy fire from the first torpedo boat nor the torpedo from the second drove Dales and his crew from their gun. With only flashes to fire at in the darkness, he found the target and the first boat burst into flames and sank. But the torpedo launched by the other had done its deadly work. The high-test gasoline cargo ignited and the American ship was engulfed in flames. Reluctantly orders were given to abandon her.

Two hours later, the survivors were picked up by a British destroyer, which then proceeded to take in tow a tanker [SS Ohio] that had been bombed and could not maneuver. After five hours constant dive-bombing, the tanker was hit again -- her crew abandoned her -- and the destroyer was forced to cut her loose. But the cargo she carried was most important to the defense of Malta, and it had to get through. The rescue destroyer and another destroyer steamed in-- lashed themselves on either side of the stricken tanker--and dragged her along in a determined attempt to get her to port.

Dales and four others volunteered to go aboard the tanker and man her guns in order to bring more fire power to their defense. The shackled ships, inching along and making a perfect target, were assailed by concentrated enemy airpower. All that day wave after wave of German and Italian bombers dived at them and were beaten off by a heavy barrage. Bombs straddled them, scoring near misses, but no direct hits were made until noon the next day, when the tanker finally received a bomb down her stack which blew out the bottom of her engine room. Though she continued to settle until her decks were awash, they fought her through until dusk that day brought them under the protection of the hard fighting air force out of Malta.

Frederick A. Larsen, Jr., Junior Third Mate
SS Santa Elisa
8/11 to 8/15/42
But Larsen's anxiety to get into the fight caused him to take inventory of her armament. He found an anti-aircraft gun mounted abaft the stack which needed only minor repairs to put it into action. The young cadet of his own ship, a British gunner's mate, and three of his men volunteered help him. Though the ships were then constantly under attack, they boarded her, repaired the gun and manned it, with Larsen taking the trainer's position and the gunner's mate and the cadet alternating as pointers.


Alvin R. Crawford,* Able Seaman
SS Marcus Daly
12/5/44
During the initial invasion of the Philippine Islands at Tacloban, Leyte, the SS Marcus Daly, in which Crawford was serving, carried troops and vital war material and, with two other vessels, afforded the principal defenses of the port for several days. During six days and nights of incessant fighting, while troops were being disembarked and her cargo safely discharged, the vessel was at times the only fire power defending the vital Leyte docks. Crawford volunteered and served as a member of the forward gun crew which distinguished itself during countless attacks by repulsing the enemy and bringing down many planes. Two months later, on a subsequent arrival in the Philippines, this same vessel was again attacked by enemy bombers. Again Crawford served as a volunteer member of the gun crew during the engagement in which his ship shot down several Japanese aircraft. One of these bombers, after being hit, crashed and exploded under the forward gun platform, where Crawford was serving, killing him instantly. His indomitable courage and unselfish service beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Merchant Marine.


Andrew W. Gavin, Master
SS Alcoa Pioneer
11/18/44
During the Philippine invasion, his ship, SS Alcoa Pioneer, was anchored in San Pedro Bay, and was subjected to unrelenting enemy air attacks. In spite of courageous and skillful use of the ship's battery an enemy suicide plane penetrated the barrage and crashed on the bridge deck killing and wounding numerous members of the Armed Guard and the Merchant Crew. Captain Gavin was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken rib and other painful injuries. Upon regaining his senses, he immediately directed the manning of fire-fighting equipment and succeeded in extinguishing the menacing flames before they could reach the three forward holds which contained gasoline cargo.

Merchant seamen quickly took the places of dead and wounded gunners and kept up continuous defense of the ship. After first aid had been administered to stricken shipmates, Captain Gavin supervised emergency repairs of difficult character and large magnitude with the result that the Alcoa Pioneer returned to the United States under her own power for complete overhaul.


Richard E. Hocken, Master
SS William Moultrie
9/12/42.
His ship, SS William Moultrie, in a convoy [PQ-18] which suffered heavy losses, fought through a week of continuous attacks by enemy bombers and submarines to deliver her cargo of war material to a North Russian port. In the course of the long running battle, the ship was directly attacked thirteen times and was credited with downing eight planes, and with scoring direct hits on twelve others. During the first attack on the convoy, the Moultrie distinguished herself by shooting down three torpedo planes and damaged five. Later, after successfully repelling another attack by planes, four torpedoes were sighted headed for the stern of the Moultrie. The ship's guns fired upon them, exploding one, and the other three were eluded by skillful seamanship.

Charles A. Jarvis, Master
SS Adoniram Judson
10/24/44 to 10/29/44
His ship, SS Adoniram Judson, was the first United States merchant vessel to dock at Tacloban, Island of Leyte, during the initial invasion of the Philippines, and was subjected to unrelenting enemy air attacks. Her guns provided the principal air cover for the landing area for two days until joined by other ships participating in the campaign. The accurate and continuous gun fire which she maintained repeatedly repelled the vigorous enemy, during which action the unloading of her vital war material, including steel airfield landing mats, was successfully carried out.

Arthur L. Johnson,* Master
SS Virginia Dare
9/7 to 9/21/42.
SS Virginia Dare, loaded with high explosives bound for Murmansk [Convoy PQ-18], fought off enemy submarines, dive bombers, and torpedo planes in a blazing battle lasting for seven days and nights. The ship was repeatedly subjected to numerous direct attacks which were successfully repelled. The accurate fire of the gun crew brought down seven of the attacking planes and inflicted damage on several others. On one occasion a Junkers 88 already in flames suddenly turned to crash dive into her bow, and was exploded by the ship's forward gun at point blank range of sixty yards.

Kyle Vaughn Johnson,* Ordinary Seaman
SS Lafayette
9/7 to 9/21/42
While his ship was enroute to a Russian port [Convoy PQ18] with a cargo of war material, he served as No. 1 gunner on a 20 mm Oerlikon and aided materially over a period of eight days in repelling a series of enemy aerial attacks. During this period, he was credited with shooting down three enemy planes and assisting in the destruction of two others. His coolness under attack, and the resulting accuracy of the fire of his gun, not only contributed immeasurably to the safety of his ship, but served as an inspiration to other members of the crew.

Richard G. Matthiesen,* Ordinary Seaman
SS Marcus Daly
12/10/44
During the initial invasion of the Philippine Islands at Tacloban, Leyte, the SS Marcus Daly, in which Matthiesen was serving, carried troops and vital war material and, with two other vessels, afforded the principal defenses of the port for several days. During six days and nights of incessant fighting, while troops were being disembarked and her cargo safely discharged, the vessel was at times the only fire power defending the vital Leyte docks. Matthiesen volunteered and served as a member of the forward gun crew which distinguished itself during countless attacks by repulsing the enemy and bringing down many planes.

Two months later, on a subsequent arrival in the Philippines, this same vessel was again attacked by enemy bombers. Again Matthiesen served as a volunteer member of the gun crew during the engagement in which his ship shot down several Japanese aircraft. One of these bombers, after being hit, crashed and exploded under the forward gun platform, where Matthiesen was serving. Despite injuries and severe burns he escaped from the platform, but realizing that two members of the Navy gun crew remained behind, he returned through the intense heat and rescued them from the flames. The following morning Matthiesen died from the resulting burns and other injuries. [Buried Manila American Cemetery Location L-10-36]


Alvin W. Opheim, Master
SS Marcus Daly
12/10/44
Loaded with troops and vital war material for the initial Philippine Islands invasion at Tacloban, Leyte, SS Marcus Daly, under the command of Captain Opheim, acted as one of the principal defenders of the port for several days. Through her accurate gunfire enemy attacks were repeatedly repulsed and many planes brought down. During six days and nights of incessant fighting her troops were landed and cargo successfully discharged.

Charles Richardson, Able Seaman
SS Esso Bolivar
3/7/42
On duty with the Navy gun crew while his ship was under heavy enemy submarine shell fire, he undertook the rescue of two severely wounded Navy members of the crew when the abandon ship order was given. Although himself wounded in the back by a shell fragment, he got both men into the water, placed one on his back and had the other grasp him around the neck. In this manner he was swimming toward a lifeboat when sharks attacked and he was obliged to defend himself and his companions by slashing out with a knife. A shark pulled the wounded man off his back and this man was lost, but he succeeded in getting the second wounded man and himself into the lifeboat.

Charles S. Robbins, Master
SS Juan De Fuca
12/21/44 to 1/1944
His ship, SS Juan De Fuca, had completed discharging troops and vital war material at Leyte under continuous enemy air raids. The ship then loaded troops and gasoline cargo for delivery to Mindoro.

For a month, the Master and crew, under continuous air attack, succeeded in discharging the urgently needed cargo, and exerted every effort to save the ship until it was declared abandoned by military authorities. Reluctantly the Master and crew left the ship. Subsequently Captain Robbins and eight members of his crew volunteered and were given permission to man the damaged and abandoned SS John M. Clayton during salvage operations and successfully brought the latter vessel to a United States port.


John Tryg, Master
SS Schoharie
9/12/42
His ship, SS Schoharie, loaded with a cargo of war material, was in an early Russia bound convoy which, for five days and nights was subjected to a running battle with enemy submarines, bombing planes and torpedo planes. The ship was without defense armament except for two 20 mm Oerlikons and two .30 caliber machine guns. During this period, the ship's guns were credited with the possible destruction of four enemy planes.


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