Earnest, Elliott W. ‘44
Ernie wrote his story in book Memoir of a Merchant Mariner in World War II.
He was interested in the U.S. Naval Academy but felt he didn’t have the know-how and political clout; but in 1939, 40, and 41 he had applied to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and was not accepted. In the meantime he had a draft deferment working in a defense industry. In early 1942 he encountered a man in a naval uniform and learned that he was a cadet from USMMA and within a few weeks he applied and was accepted after the physical exam. He reported to the 3rd Naval District HQ in New York and then directed to Kings Point. On October 9, 1942 he arrived with a busload of “preliminaries” still dressed in civvies. The training was to be for 18 months: 2 months basic training, 6 months at sea and 10 months advanced training. New sections were arriving almost daily. He was assigned to Section A-213 Deck and stayed with that group of 25 young men throughout basic training. There were four sections to a company; two or more companies to a battalion and several Battalions comprised the Regiment.
The grounds were torn up with construction; most cadets were in temporary barracks but Ernie’s section was in the former servant quarters over the garage. Morse code class was in the bottom of the indoor swimming pool. It took until the end of the first week to be outfitted in dungarees, caps, sweaters and underwear. The khaki outfits came several weeks later. Upperclassmen already began hazing, hands were blistered from rowing; feet were blistered from marching and there was no leave for 3 weeks. Basic training was speeded up and 2-3 weeks were cut from the schedule. Elliott said that it was hard to know other cadets in the graduating year since sections were being formed every week and sections were being shipped out as cadets or graduates frequently.
After a week at home, he reported to the Masters, Mates and Pilots hiring hall in New York City and was assigned to the SS Marshall Elliott in Wilmington, NC. The Engine Cadet was Norman H. Bell. The new Liberty ship had separate rooms for each cadet; but within several weeks the engine cadet room was converted to a hospital and Ernie’s room was fitted out to berth four cadets. He made three trips on the SS Marshall Elliott and kept a nearly daily log of events on board ship.
Most vivid memory is being in a convoy entering the Med bound for Oran; while near Gibraltar on April 20, 1943 about 7 AM, a ship on his beam took a torpedo, blew up and sunk quickly; then a troop ship ahead loaded with 1,700 African Senegalese troops took a torpedo and immediately went down; he still sees the propeller turning in the air as the ship sunk bow first. As Elliott was on a ship carrying 9,000 tons of ammo; he knew his fate if he was torpedoed. Escort vessels dashed at flank speed all around them dropping depth charges. At Oran they discharged their explosive cargo including tanks of poison gas carried on deck.
Ernie was back at the Academy on June 29, 1943 for his final 9-10 months of advanced training and was assigned to Section A-393. He remembers that on July 31, since the summer whites had not returned from the laundry, the regiment was ordered to wear winter blues for a regimental review. The temperature was 90 degrees. After standing at parade rest for about 45 minutes during the formal dedication ceremonies when the order came to ‘pass in review’ he passed out. He was carried away and when he came to under a tree there were about 20 other cadets there who had a similar fate.
On September 30, 1943, the formal dedication of the Academy took place with much ceremony. There was bad weather, sufficient to cancel a regatta and the Regimental review. Since there were some 7,000 guests and the event was moved to O’Hara Hall, most cadets were confined to barracks. He said that when the Regiment was assembled in front of Delano Hall for photographs, the wind blew so hard that many lost their hats and cadets and guests were wet from the rain!
Graduation came on March 3, 1944 after passing the license exams. He had desired to go Navy upon graduation but the Navy was encouraging merchant mariners to stay in the merchant marine since it took only 90 days to make an ensign and 18 months or more to make a merchant marine officer; and they were in short supply. Unfortunately those decisions to serve where there was a greater need deprived them of the GI Bill, with its education and other monetary benefits. By early April he was serving on a 1919 ship in poor condition on the Murmansk run. The rest of the career can be found in his book!
Ernie knew Bill Linde who died on the Jeremiah van Rensselaer. While at the Academy on October 19, 1942, he heard that Bill Linde had shipped out; in four months he was torpedoed. Their fathers worked for Aetna Life Insurance Co. in Connecticut.
Elliott dedicated his book to two men from his hometown, Bill Linde and to LeRoy “Whitey” Lawrence; Whitey died on the SS Jacksonville.