Alexander, Joseph Peter

Joseph Peter Alexander

Born: April 24, 1921
Hometown: Attica, GA
Class: 1943
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: October 18, 1942 / 49-39N,
Date / Place of burial: October 18, 1942 / Lost at
Sea – 49-39N, 30-20W
Age: 21


Joseph P. Alexander signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the SS Angelina at Pensacola, FL on June 20, 1942. He was the ship’s only cadet until September 9 when Joseph Krusko signed on as the ship’s Engine Cadet. After a voyage to Liverpool, the Angelina was returning in ballast to New York in convoy ON-137.

On October 17, 1942 gale force winds had resulted in the Angelina straggling behind the convoy. However a Canadian corvette had also been forced to fall behind the convoy and was keeping station off the Angelina as they coped with the heavy seas. Due to the heavy seas, neither ship was zigzagging.

At about 2345 GCT one torpedo fired by U-618 struck the Angelina on its starboard side at #4 hold. The Angelina listed to starboard after the impact, and the well deck flooded, preventing the gun crew from manning the 4″ gun on the stern. Fortunately, although the Angelina’s radio could not send a distress signal, the corvette did send an SOS. The general alarm sounded soon after the first torpedo struck, and all hands prepared to abandon ship in the vessel’s port lifeboat and rafts. About twenty minutes after firing on the Angelina, U-618 fired another torpedo, hitting the stern on the starboard side and detonating the ammunition magazine there. The Angelina sank at about 0030 (GCT), within minutes of the second torpedo hitting the ship.

However, despite getting away from their sinking ship, the weather was not in the crew’s favor. Many men were washed overboard and drowned in the heavy seas. The port (#2) lifeboat, which was launched successfully, capsized in the waves, and only half of the occupants were able to seize hold of the overturned boat. The few who remained were gradually losing their hold, though the heroic efforts of the ship’s carpenter kept five men clinging to the hull. Another six men managed to stay on a raft.

Fortunately, the convoy’s rescue ship, the SS Bury, received the corvette’s SOS and arrived on the scene at 0345 (GCT) and rescued the six men on the life raft. After searching for over two hours, the Bury found the capsized lifeboat, rescuing the three men still hanging on to it. The Armed Guard Commander, Ensign A. J. Gartland, USNR cited the ship’s Chief Mate, E. A. L. Koonig and its Carpenter Gus Alm, for heroism during the abandonment and boarding the Bury, respectively. Sadly, one of the men rescued by the Bury, Felix Posario, died before the Bury reached St. Johns, Newfoundland a week later. The other 46 crew members of the Angelina, including cadets Joseph Alexander and Joseph Krusko, were lost at sea.

Joseph Alexander, one of Roy R. and Mary R. Alexander’s four children, was posthumously awarded the Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Combat Bar, the Mariners Medal, the Victory Medal and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.

Joseph P. “Peter” Alexander was the oldest of Read Alexander and Mary R.
Alexander’s four children, Joseph, Robert, Charles and George. According to the 1940
U.S. Census, Read Alexander was a feed and fertilizer salesman to the local farmers.

Rachel Alexander McMahon was not born when her uncle Pete  died, but she recalls the many stories of his life in Athens, Georgia, and how he was a great big brother to his little brothers. Rachael said that Pete’s mother, her grandmother, kept his cadet portrait in his dress whites and officer’s hat on her bedroom wall; to her, he was forever twenty-one.


SS Angelina (Photo)

6 thoughts on “Alexander, Joseph Peter

  1. I am very touched by this account of my Uncle Pete’s brief service in WW2. Though he was killed just nine years before I was born, I did not comprehend how short a time that was for my father’s family nor how fresh the loss must have seemed for years afterward. I heard stories of his boyhood in Athens, GA, and I came to know what a great big brother he was to Robert, Charles and George, his younger brothers. My grandmother kept his Cadet portrait in his dress whites and officer’s hat on her bedroom wall always. He is forever 21.

    • I have added the following to the draft of the book:
      Rachel Alexander McMahan was not born when her Uncle Pete died, but she recalls the many stories of his life in Athens, GA and how he was a great big brother to his little brothers. Rachael said that Pete’s mother, her grandmother, kept his Cadet portrait in his dress whites and officer’s hat on her bedroom wall; to her he was forever 21.

    • Thank you for your comments about your relative whose memory is honored in the book Braving the Wartime Seas. The book has been published. Through the generosity of Kings Point graduates, we have funds to send a copy of the book to members of the families of these men. Send me your postal address and you will get a copy in a few weeks. George Ryan

  2. I was seven years old when my brother Pete died. He was a hero then and he still is today, over 70 years later. My memories of him are limited but still vivid. My niece Rachel mentioned a picture of him in his white dress uniform. It was prominently visible in our home. Our dad, Rachel’s grandfather, operated a small country store a couple hundred yards from our home. One morning we heard his shrill whistle, the same high-pitched tone he used to call my brothers and me. Mother responded and he told her he had something in his eye and needed her help. When she got there Pete stepped out from inside the store, dressed in that beautiful white uniform. Then she also had something wonderful in her eye. As they walked toward the house I ran to meet them and I even tried to carry his bag which was too heavy for me. I don’t know how long his furlough lasted. It was a wonderful visit. I also remember going to the train station the evening he returned to duty. The train had two steam engines and a large number coaches. We watched him get on the train and take his seat on the coach. We continued to watch as the train pulled away from the station. I wish we had known each other longer but the time we had with each other reminds me that we had something wonderful.

    My wife and I visited the USMMA academy a few years ago and we appreciate the way they honor those who served in WWII.

    • George, thank you for past comments about your brother and the men who served our nation during WWII. We have raised some money to send the book Braving the Wartime Seas to the relatives of the men in the Merchant Marine from the Maritime Commission programs who died during the war. Please send me your postal mail address and another for another member of the family if they would like a book, and I will send each of you a book in 3-4 weeks. My e mail is Again thanks. George

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