Miller, Alphonse I.

Alphonse Ignatius Miller

Born: July 10, 1923
Hometown: Toledo, OH
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: June 10, 1943 / 31-02N, 79-17W
Date / Place of burial: June 10, 1943 / Lost at Sea —
31-02N, 79-17W
Age: 19

Alphonse I. Miller signed on aboard the SS Esso Gettysburg as Deck Cadet on May 27, 1943 at New York, NY. The ship was engaged in the coastal oil trade, running from the Gulf of Mexico to the East Coast. Also aboard the ship were Kings Point Cadet- Midshipmen John M. Carter (Engine), Joseph J. Landron (Engine) and Eugene Quidort (Deck). The ship sailed on June 6 from Port Arthur, TX bound for Philadelphia, PA loaded with 120,000 barrels of west Texas crude oil for the Atlantic Refining Company’s refinery there.

On the afternoon of June 10, the ship was under way about 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia traveling without escort, apparently due to its ability to make more than 15 knots. However, the ship was steering evasive courses. Although the vessel had been warned after rounding Key West that submarines were in the area, none had been sighted by the lookouts.

At around 1400 local time, 1900 GCT, the Esso Gettysburg was sighted and attacked by U-66. The submarine’s two torpedoes hit the ship’s port side, the first one aft of mid- ships while the second torpedo hit the engine room in the stern. The impacts ruptured 25 feet of deck and hull, and raised a 100-foot geyser of oil and water. The crude oil exploded on impact, transforming the ship into an inferno. A thick cloud of black smoke rose almost a thousand feet in the air. The ship settled by the stern, and began to list to port.

At the time of the attack Alphonse Miller was painting the starboard side of the after deck with an AB. John Carter was on duty with the 2nd Assistant Engineer in the Engine Room. Joseph Landron, who was not on watch, was sleeping in his room. The fact that Eugene Quidort was off watch on the flying bridge near the compass probably saved his life. Carter, along with the rest of the engine crew on duty, was killed instantly. Miller was seen to run along the catwalk toward midships, where he was caught in the flames and killed. Landron made for the lifeboats, but when these caught fire, jumped into the water with the rest of the survivors. He was last seen by an Able Seaman fighting the flames in the water.

Cadet-Midshipman Eugene Quidort also jumped overboard, after unsuccessfully attempting to help the Chief Mate lower one of the lifeboats into the sea. He was able to swim away from the burning oil, towing for a while, Ensign John S. Arnold, the Armed Guard Officer. Quidort eventually found a burned lifeboat to hang on to. Several hours later, he was rescued by the Chief Mate and 2nd Mate, who had managed to climb aboard another partially burned lifeboat, and pulled aboard six crew members and seven Navy men – the only survivors among 45 crew members and 27 Naval Armed Guard. The following day, the survivors were spotted by an Army B-25 patrol plane. They were picked up by the SS George Washington and taken to Charleston, South Carolina.

The Armed Guard, under the command of Ensign John S. Arnold, USNR, did manage to fire one shot in the direction of the submarine before being forced to abandon their post by the flames. Ensign Arnold survived the sinking and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

Cadet-Midshipman Alphonse I. Miller was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.

Alphonse I. Miller was the youngest of Alphonse A. Miller and Theresa Miller’s two sons and the fourth of five children. Alphonse’ siblings were Norbert, Germaine, Rosemary and Dolores. According the 1930 U.S. Census the elder Alphonse, a German immigrant, was the proprietor of a confectionery store. As a Sophomore at Toledo’s Central Catholic High School in 1939, Alphonse was a member of the Student Council and the St. John Berchmans Society. In his Junior year Alphonse was a member of the “4 A List” the “Al-Geo-Trig Club” and participated in the school’s Drama Club. Following his graduation from Central Catholic High School in 1941, Alphonse Miller attended the University of Toledo before being accepted at Kings Point.

Photo of Esso Gettysburg

2 thoughts on “Miller, Alphonse I.

  1. Cleveland Plain Dealer
    By Brian Albrecht, Plain Dealer Reporter
    on January 19, 2013
    Ex-Merchant Marine vet credits survival to guardian angel
    There are no ordinary lives,” said Ken Burns of those who served in a global cataclysm so momentous that the filmmaker simply entitled his 2007 documentary “The War.” Many who served in so many different ways during World War II are gone now. Some took their stories with them. But not this one.
    Eugene Quidort had a guardian angel — a girl, by the sound of her voice.
    It was a voice he heard on June 10, 1943, when Quidort was aboard the “Esso Gettysburg,” a tanker hauling 120,000 barrels of crude oil straight into the sights of a German U-boat lurking off the Georgia coast.
    Quidort was a cadet-midshipman, partway through his training at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and serving on his first ship.
    The West High School graduate (class of ’39) had a hankering to go to sea ever since he was a young boy, when a Great Lakes freighter captain who lived on Quidort’s street took the youth on a short voyage across Lake Erie.
    “This was during the Depression, and when I sat down in that [ship’s] fancy dining room and ate like a millionaire, I said, ‘I’m going to be a captain when I grow up,’ ” Quidort, 92, of Cleveland, recalled.
    During World War II, he joined the more than 200,000 members of the American Merchant Marine who delivered tons of supplies and millions of troops to combat zones around the world.
    The thought of sailing on uncertain seas, stalked by German submarines and bombers during the war, initially didn’t faze Quidort. “Nervous? No, I was dumb,” he joked. That changed on that June day in 1943 aboard the Esso Gettysburg.

    Quidort recalled that he had just had grabbed an engineering book to study and was headed for the engine room when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, but nobody was there.
    Then he heard a girl’s voice, clear as the blue sky overhead: “I wouldn’t go down there if I were you . . . Go to the flying bridge and get some sun.”
    Quidort shrugged, headed to the upper decks of the ship, sat down and opened the book just as two torpedoes slammed into the ship, one directly into the engine room.
    “It sounded like a giant sledgehammer — Boom! Boom!” he recalled.
    As the ship tilted back on its stern, Quidort ran for bow and jumped. Five minutes later the tanker slipped beneath the waves, taking more than 40 crewmen with it.
    Quidort and other survivors swam through oil and water toward an overturned lifeboat. He felt a thump against his leg. Sharks. Quidort said he could only think, “What the hell are we going to do?”
    Suddenly a school of dolphins darted between the sailors and the sharks. “They knocked all these sharks out of the way and waited until we got the lifeboat turned over,” Quidort said.
    “They stayed with us the whole time,” he added. “Then, when we got everybody in there and settled down, they practically waved goodbye to us.”
    Quidort and the 14 other survivors were rescued the next day. He never again heard the voice of the girl he called his guardian angel.
    It was a daunting beginning to his service in the war, but Quidort said, “I figured bad start, good ending.”
    And that’s just how it turned out as Quidort safely sailed on four other vessels — including a tanker, troop transports and a hospital ship — to England, France and Mediterranean ports.
    There were always reminders of the risks, including nights when there’d be a sudden flash on the horizon as a fellow convoy vessel was hit, or warships dropped depth charges.
    There also were the natural elements to confront as the ships battled heavy seas. Quidort remembered times when he came off watch duty with his face whipped bloody by slashing wind and rain.
    Some of the dangers he skirted were ashore, when he visited London while it was still under attack by German bombers and rockets.
    Quidort said he was stunned by the devastation in the city. “You don’t realize what war is, until you go to a place like that,” he added.
    After delivering troops or supplies, the ships would sometimes return to the U.S. with German POWs or wounded GIs.
    Quidort remembered one prisoner who was put on a work detail, painting the ship, but kept “losing” his brush over the side. Quidort said that attitude changed when he told the POW that he’d follow the next brush that went into the sea.
    He also recalled the wounded U.S. soldier who came aboard still clutching his weapon. Quidort said he was about to take it away when he was warned that the man had 15 members of his unit killed around him, and ever since, “he’s still talking to that gun.”
    Quidort left the gun alone, after making sure it wasn’t loaded.
    And that’s just how it turned out as Quidort safely sailed on four other vessels — including a tanker, troop transports and a hospital ship — to England, France and Mediterranean ports.
    As the war wore on, Quidort missed his wife, Mary, whom he’d married after his first ship was torpedoed. He didn’t see their first son until five months after the child was born.
    Quidort said that after a while he stopped worrying about the risks. “What’re you going to do? That’s life,” he said with a shrug.
    But his wife worried, with good cause. More than 8,000 Merchant Marines were killed at sea, and another 12,000 wounded in the war.
    Quidort said the best part of his service came “when the war was over and I could come home.”
    After the war, he and his wife raised three children while he worked as a tool and die maker until he retired.
    Looking back on World War II, Quidort said, “As far as [Adolf] Hitler goes, I did my part.”With a little help from a guardian angel, of course.

  2. Interview by George Ryan
    Quidort, Eugene
    Telephone Interview January 20, 2013

    I asked what happened after he made it ashore after the sinking and why did he not return to Kings Point? He said he was given three months to recuperate from wounds (he said the wounds physically were minor but there were surely mental wounds). He never got orders to return to the Academy so after a year, through a relative he got a job in 1944 as a Deck Yeoman on a large troop ship the Thomas H. Berry, ATS. He also shipped out in some capacity on an the Robert E. House (this may be an incorrect name) with a 70 plus year old Captain who heard of his experiences and told him he was Third Mate for the trip since the third mate failed to join. His ship was in a 200 ship convoy; and Quidort was OK in the daylight on the 8-12 watch but his vision was bad on the night watch and feared having a collision. (I am not certain now if Quidort was speaking of the Captain or of himself)

    Regarding the sinking he said that Ensign Arnold who was in charge of the gun crew attempted to fire a round at the submarine as his ship was sinking but there was a serious flashback that burned Arnold’s face and hands. Arnold made it over the side with a life jacket on but was foundering until Quidort and a mate towed him from the oil and flames for about four hours until they got into the lifeboat. He said that Arnold survived and received the Navy Cross and that Quidort received the Mariners Medal and a letter saying that he was a member of the tin fisherman club.

    After the war in either 1946 or 47, Quidort, who had an AB ticket, sailed as wheelsman on a two week trip on the Great Lakes on the Horace S. Wilkenson from Lake Erie to Lake Superior to load iron ore. He did not like wheeling and never went back.

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