Giovinco, Joseph

Joseph Giovinco
Born: April 2, 1924
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Class: 1943
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: December 2, 1942 /
North Atlantic 48-45 N, 23-30 W
Date / Place of burial: December 2, 1942 /
North Atlantic 48-45 N, 23-30 W / Lost At Sea
Age: 18


Joseph Giovinco signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the SS Coamo on October 2, 1942 at New York, NY. Captain Nels Helgesen was Master. He was joined by Cadet-Midshipman Henry Levett who also signed on as Deck Cadet. The Coamo was built in 1925 for the East Coast to Puerto Rico passenger trade. When World War II began the ship was chartered by the Army Transport Service for use as a Troop Ship.

After a voyage to Algiers, the Coamo sailed with sixteen other merchant ships in convoy
MKF-3 on November 23, 1942, bound for the West Coast of Scotland. On December
1, 1942, as the convoy was nearing the British Isles, the Coamo was ordered by the
British Admiralty to proceed independently to New York, without escort.

On the evening of the following day the Coamo was sighted by U-604 in a rising gale.
According to German Navy records U-604 closed to within 800 yards of its target and
fired one torpedo. At 1818 GCT the torpedo struck the Coamo underneath its bridge.
The Coamo sank within five minutes of the attack without launching a single lifeboat.
Although the submarine’s crew reported seeing some survivors leave the ship on rafts
none of the 133 crew, 37 Armed Guard and 16 passengers, including Cadet-
Midshipmen Joseph Giovinco and Henry Levett, were seen again. It is believed that
any survivors who left the Coamo died in the gale that swept the area for three days.
The sinking of the SS Coamo was the largest loss of merchant crew on any U.S. Flag
merchant vessel during the Second World War. It is interesting to note that all of the
other ships in Convoy MKF-3 arrived safely at their destinations.

Cadet-Midshipman Joseph Giovinco was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.

Joseph Giovinco was the the eldest of Italian immigrants Saverio and Mary Giovinco’s
four children (Joseph, Frank, Anthony and Frances). The 1940 U.S. Census identifies
Saverio’s occupation as shoemaker and Mary’s as a seamstress in a clothing factory.
Joseph’s brother Anthony remembers that Joe was very intelligent and was always
exempt from final exams at Grover Cleveland High School because of his high grades.
By the time Joe was five he spoke fluent Italian which he learned from his parents.
However, after being laughed at in Kindergarten because he spoke Italian, his parents
spoke only English at the home. Anthony says that Joe was an excellent swimmer and
played football for the Ridgewood Crusaders. Joe was also a good dancer. In fact he
was so good that while dancing at an event at 1939-40 World’s Fair actress Joan
Crawford noticed Joseph dancing, and asked him to dance with her.

According to Anthony,
“Joe had many friends and as his younger brother I was an admirer of his!”

Photo of SS Coamo follows


1 thought on “Giovinco, Joseph

  1. From Captain Henry N. Helgesen USCG, Retired KP 1945 Master Mariner
    Just rec’d your interesting information. I did go to the web to read list of the KP cadets lost during WW II. Looks like more names need to be added. Probably all in the works. I will mention that the Deck Cadets: Joseph Giovinco and Henry A. Levett who were lost from the USAT Coamo when the ship was sunk by the German U-604 on Dec. 9, 1942 North Atlantic, are not listed.
    (Later Captain Helgesen stated I moved too quickly to e-mail you on the date of sinking. I took the first reported date of sinking from Captain Moore’s study of the sinkings written in 1983 when first published. There it said 9 Dec 1942. The book was revised in the printing of 1988 the date was corrected to 2 December 1942. Which is correct. Sorry about that slip, I should have known better.)
    I am quite familiar with the sinking in great detail. My father Captain Nels Helgesen was the Master and also lost with all hands.
    My brother in law E.V. Friend did a great story of the sinking of the Coamo with the greatest of details. He researched the German Archives and the log book of the German U-604. And interviews of the surviving crew members of the sub. It is called : “SS Coamo Last Voyage”. Written in 1987. He had never met my father Captain Nels Helgesen. He read Capt. Moore’s “A Careless Word…A Needless Sinking”, which sparked his idea of finding out more about how and when.
    My father commanded most or all of the NY and Porto Rico Line ships. His life was at sea. Of course much of this is background and found in Friend’s book. My father resides in the Maritime Hall of Fame at the Museum at Kings Point.

    But E. V. Friend created the day of 2 December 1942 of the sinking and the sub tracking the Coamo until able to fire away a torpedo that evening and sinking when the sub got within range. It was a stormy day and the Coamo was zigzagging. On a leg heading into heavier seas the Coamo was slowed down at times. This enabled the sub to close in for the kill. Created from the U-604’s log book and Friend’s research. This was how the two Cadet-Midshipmen from KP perished with all hands.

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