Born: May 1, 1923
Hometown: Newport News, VA
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date/Place of death: March 17, 1943 / 50-38N, 34 46W
Date / Place of burial: March 17, 1943 / Lost at Sea —
William H. Parker signed on aboard the SS Harry Luckenbach as Deck Cadet on March
2, 1943 at New York, NY. In addition to Parker, the Harry Luckenbach had three other
Kings Point Cadets aboard; Lee T. Byrd (Deck), Walter J. Meyer (Engine) and Francis
R. Miller (Engine). The ship’s Third Mate, Leroy W. Kernan was a 1942 graduate. The
ship sailed from New York on March 8 as one of 40 ships in convoy HX-229, bound for
Liverpool with a general cargo of war supplies. A second HX convoy, HX-229A with
more ships sailed about 10 hours after the ships of HX-229. During their transit of the
North Atlantic the two convoys overtook a slower convoy, SC-122. The three convoys,
with a total of 110 ships, but less than 20 escorts, would be the centerpiece of what has
been described as the greatest convoy battle of World War II.
The ships of convoy HX-229 had proceeded without incident or attack until March 16.
For the next three days the convoy was under attack by over forty U-Boats. On the
morning of March 17, when HX-229 was about 400 miles east-southeast of Cape
Farrell, U-91 fired five torpedoes at the convoy, not aiming at any specific ship.
However, the Harry Luckenbach in the starboard forward corner of the convoy was hit
by two of the torpedoes at the engine room. The ship sank in minutes, but amazingly,
three lifeboats were able to get away from the sinking vessel. One or more of the boats
were later sighted by HMS Beverley (H-64), HMS Pennywort (K-111), HMS Volunteer
(D-71) and, possibly, HMS Abelia (K-184). However, none of these ships were able to
pick up the survivors from the boats. None of the 54 crew members and 26 Naval
Armed Guard of the Harry Luckenbach survived the sinking.
By March 20 the surviving ships of the three convoys arrived in the United Kingdom,
having lost twenty-two ships and their crews, while sinking just one of the attacking UBoats. According to a Royal Navy report on the convoy battle,
“The Germans never came so near to disrupting communications between
the New World and the Old as in the first twenty days of March 1943”
The fact that the Germans were unable to do so is a testament to the courage of
Merchant Mariners like William H. Parker, and the example that he set for the Kings
Pointers that came after him.
Cadet-Midshipman William H. Parker was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and Presidential
William H. Parker was the youngest of Arthur B. Parker and Irma Parker’s two sons.
Williams’ big brother was Arthur, Jr., who was several years older. According to the
1940 U.S. Census, Arthur, Sr. was a Manager for a Life Insurance company.