Born: June 14, 1923
Hometown: Stone Mountain, GA
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death:March 11,1943 / 51-35N, 28-30W
Date / Place of burial: March 11, 1943 / Lost at Sea –
AL on January 27, 1943, shortly after the ship was delivered to the War Shipping
Administration from its builder. Joining Cadet-Midshipman Moon were three of his
classmates, James Cordua, Edwin Hanzik, and Edwin Wiggin. Already aboard was the
ship’s Third Mate, 1942 Cadet Corps alumnus Rafael R. Rivera. Six weeks later, on
March 10, 1943, the Gorgas was traveling in convoy HX-228 en route from New York to
Liverpool loaded with general cargo, including 900 tons of explosives and a deck cargo
of an LCT and two PT Boats. The ship carried a crew of 41 merchant mariners and 26
Naval Armed Guard Sailors.
At around 2030 on March 10, another ship in the convoy was torpedoed, and the
general alarm was sounded. The crew remained on alert, with the Naval Armed Guard
manning the battle stations. The weather was hazy, with moderate to heavy swells, and
bright moonlight. At 2330, the Gorgas was hit on the starboard side amidships by a
torpedo fired by U-757. The torpedo blew open a hole about 15 feet in diameter, and
the engine room was destroyed and flooded, killing the three engineers on watch. The
master ordered the crew to abandon ship. By 2350, 51 survivors in lifeboats and rafts
had left the ship in driving snow and high seas. The U-757 located one of the boats and
questioned the survivors. Shortly thereafter the submarine found the ship still afloat and
fired another torpedo to sink it. Immediately after the ship settled under the waves it’s
ammunition cargo exploded, damaging U-757 so much that it was unable to dive. The
submarine was escorted on the surface back to France by another submarine.
The Gorgas’ 51 survivors were picked up at about 0700 on March 11th by the destroyer
HMS Harvester (H 19). Shortly after rescuing the Gorgas’ survivors, the Harvester
sighted U-444 on the surface. Although the submarine dove to escape the Harvester’s
gunfire, a depth charge attack brought the submarine to the surface. It is unclear why
the Harvester’s commander made his decision, but U-444 was rammed at full speed by
the Harvester, severely damaging both ships.
Although U-444 was able to break free of the Harvester, it was rammed again and sunk
by the Free French corvette Aconit (K 58). However, the almost motionless Harvester
was easy prey for U-432 who fired two torpedoes, quickly sinking the destroyer with
nearly all of its crew and 39 of the Gorgas’ survivors. The Aconit was immediately on
scene attacking the U-432 with depth charges and forcing it to the surface. The Aconit
fired at the surfaced submarine and then rammed it, sending the U-432, and all but 20
of its crew to the bottom. With this vital task accomplished, the Aconit rescued twelve
Gorgas survivors, 48 survivors of HMS Harvester, and 24 German Sailors from U-444
After the Harvester sank, the Master of the Gorgas, James Calvin Ellis Jr., was seen by
some of the survivors floating in a life ring in the cold seas. When he was offered a place
on a life raft by one of the seamen, he declined, telling the man to keep his place. Soon
after, he lost his grip on the life ring and was lost in the icy waters.
James Moon, his three U.S. Merchant Marine Academy classmates and 1942 graduate
Rafael R. Ramirez were among those lost. It is believed that all five survived the initial attack, but were lost in the subsequent sinking of HMS Harvester.
Cadet-Midshipman James O. Moon was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with two stars, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the
Presidential Testimonial Letter.
James O. Moon was the youngest son of Charles Emory Moon and Mary Elizabeth
“Molly” Odom Moon. He was one of seven children, although, according to his family
genealogy, one of his brothers died in infancy before James was born. According to the
1930 and 1940 U.S. Census, the Moon family were farmers in rural Georgia. By 1940
James was working at the local school as a School Aid and groundskeeper while
attending High School. According to Academy records, James Moon had served
aboard the SS Jeremiah Wadsworth on its maiden voyage when it was torpedoed off of
South Africa, making him a member of the Academy’s “Tin Fish Club”.
Photo of Launching of SS William C. Gorgas