One final victory: WWII merchant seamen restore a ship and take it for a cruise.

The Orange County Register, May 18, 2001

by Tom Berg

Feather merchants, they've been called. Bums. Draft dodgers.

It took almost 50 years for their own government to recognize them as veterans.

The men of the Merchant Marine may be the most misunderstood men of World War II. Which may explain the determination of a small band of septuagenarians who acquired a 455-foot-long Victory ship, persuaded the U.S. Navy to haul it to San Pedro, restored it, and on Thursday steamed from San Pedro to San Diego in a fit of youthful exuberance.

"We used to be able to go below easily, or climb the mast," said retired firefighter W. Lee Chamberlain, 76, of Buena Park. "We can't do that anymore."

But they still can run the S.S. Lane Victory, the only working Victory-class ship in the world. Built in 1945 to haul troops and supplies abroad, the ship will remain in San Diego to celebrate national Maritime Day, which is Tuesday -- a day to honor merchant mariners.

"We were never recognized by any of the other armed forces," said chief engineer Claude Gammel, 77, of Newport Beach, a mariner for 37 years.

It used to bother him. But not on this sweet day with the hum of a steam turbine in his ears.

"Now we just accept it," he said. "As you get older, things mellow out."


What is the U.S. Merchant Marine?

  • The nonmilitary fleet of cargo ships, created in 1775, becomes naval auxiliary during wartime to deliver troops and war materiel.
  • Men in the Merchant Marine are called mariners, seamen, seafarers or sailors.
  • Vessels managed by merchant mariners were involved in every major invasion in World War II, including Iwo Jima, Okinawa and D-Day.
  • Many merchant mariners struggled for recognition of World War II service.
  • Only mariners who sailed before Aug. 15, 1945, were given veteran status in 1988.



News Articles