Born: March 30, 1922
Hometown: Mt. Kisco, NY
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: March 10, 1943 / Caribbean
19-49 N, 74-38 W
Date / Place of burial: March 10, 1943 / Caribbean,
19-49 N, 74-38 W – Lost at Sea
James Rowley signed on aboard the brand new SS James Sprunt as Deck Cadet on
February 23, 1943 at Charleston, South Carolina. He was joined by his Academy
classmates Cadet-Midshipmen Michael Buck (Engine), Howard McGrath (Engine) and
John Tucek (Deck). The ship loaded at Charleston for a voyage to Karachi, India via
Texas and the Panama Canal with general cargo and 4,000 tons of high explosives.
On the morning of March 10, 1943 the James Sprunt was traveling in convoy KG-123
about three miles southeast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another ship in the convoy,
the Virginia Sinclair, had been torpedoed at 0430 on the same morning. At 0809 U-185
fired torpedoes at the convoy, hitting the James Sprunt.
The James Sprunt’s cargo of explosives blew up with extraordinary force, completely
disintegrating the ship. The glare from the explosion was seen more than forty miles
away, and witnesses on other ships recalled the violent tremors, and debris that fell like
hail on the other ships. There were no survivors among the 43 crew members and 28
Naval Armed Guard members including all four Kings Point Cadet-Midshipmen; Michael
Buck, Howard McGrath, James Rowley, and John Tucek.
The thirty day life of the SS James Sprunt may have had the shortest life span of any
Liberty ship. The ship was delivered from North Carolina Shipbuilding to the War
Shipping Administration on February 13, 1943, loaded cargo from the 19th to the 29th
and was destroyed on March 10, 1943.
Cadet Midshipman James R. Rowley was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Victory Medal and Presidential Testimonial Letter.
James V. Rowley was the only son and youngest child of James L. Rowley and Abbie
Chase Rowley. James’ sister, Kathryn was two years older. According to the 1930 and
1940 U.S. Census, the Rowley family lived in the Chicago, Illinois area where James’
father was an office equipment salesman. However, on his U.S. Coast Guard records,
James listed his mother as his next of kin living in Little Neck, New York, which is close
to Kings Point.