Born: May 8, 1918
Hometown: Port Arthur, TX
Class: 1940 – USMM Cadet Corps
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Able Bodied Seaman
Date / Place of death: May 16, 1942 / 28-52N, 90-20W
Date / Place of burial: May 16, 1942 / Lost at Sea –
28-52 N, 90-20 W
Charles Emil Blair was a member of the Merchant Marine Cadet Corps and completed
training as a Deck Cadet on November 26, 1940. However, there is no notation in his
U.S. Coast Guard record that he received a license as Third Mate. Coast Guard
records show that he sailed as Deck Cadet aboard the SS American Press (1939 –
1940), the SS Liberator (1939), SS Effingham (1939), SS Almeria Lykes (1938, 1939),
SS Ruth Lykes (1938) and SS Ethan Allen (1937 – 1938). Following completion of his
Cadet Corps training he sailed as an Able Bodied Seaman aboard several ships on
coastwise voyages. Coast Guard records show that he was a survivor of the torpedoing
of the SS Papoose on March 19, 1942.
In May 1942 Charles E. Blair signed on aboard the tanker MV William C. McTarnahan
as an Able Bodied Seaman. The ship was in ballast en route to Port Isabel, TX from
New York with a crew of thirty-eight Merchant Mariners and seven Armed Guard
Sailors. The ship was sailing without an escort and was not zigzagging since U-Boats
were not believed to be operating in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the German Navy
had just sent the U-Boats of its 10th U-Boat Flotilla to the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt the
flow of oil and other war supplies to the East Coast and foreign destinations. In May
1942 alone, the U-Boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico sank 56 ships.
At about 10am on May 16th, 1942 when the William C. McTarnahan was 35 miles east
of Ship Shoal Light, LA, U-506 sighted it and another ship, the tanker SS Sun. The
submarine attacked the Sun first hitting it on the port bow, damaging it but not sinking it.
The U-506 then attacked the nearby William C. McTarnahan. Two of U-506’s
torpedoes hit the McTarnahan on the starboard side at the #2 tank and engine room.
The resulting fire killed all crew members in the aft section of the ship. However, the
ship remained afloat and the submarine surfaced to try to sink it with gunfire. Over the
next 30 minutes U-506 fired approximately 15 shells at the McTarnahan, hitting the ship
several times while the surviving crew abandoned ship in two life boats and two life
rafts. Believing that the ship was sinking, U-506 submerged and left the scene. Four
hours later fishing vessels directed by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol plane arrived in the
area to rescue the survivors and take them to Houma, LA.
Seventeen of the McTarnahan’s crew members including Charles E. Blair, were lost in
the attack. Ironically, despite U-506’s best efforts, the McTarnahan did not sink. The
ship was repaired and returned to service.
Based on his wartime service, Charles E. Blair should have received the Mariner’s
Medal, Combat Bar with Star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, and Presidential Testimonial
Charles Emil Blair is identified in U.S. Coast Guard documents as the son of Mrs. J. E.
Blair of Port Arthur, Texas. However, even though letters were written by Mrs. Blair
from a Port Arthur, TX address seeking information about her son’s death, four years
later mail sent to his mother at that address was returned with no forwarding address.