William R. Weis, Jr.
Born: March 19, 1921
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: November 7, 1942 /
Caribbean,11-34 N, 63-26 W
Date / Place of burial: November 7, 1942 /
Caribbean,11-34 N, 63-26 W – Lost at Sea
William R. Weis signed on aboard the Liberty Ship SS Nathaniel Hawthorne on May 10,1942 at Portland, OR just a week after the ship was delivered to the War Shipping Administration by its builder, Oregon Shipbuilding. By November 1942, the ship was en route from Georgetown, British Guiana to New York via Trinidad loaded with a cargo of 7,576 tons of bauxite. The vessel was traveling in convoy TAG-19, and carried a complement of forty crew members, ten Naval Armed Guard, and two passengers.
At 0340 on November 7th, while the convoy was traveling about 40 miles northeast of
Isla de Margarita, the Nathaniel Hawthorne was struck on the port side at the Number 1
hold by a torpedo fired by U-508. Seconds later, another torpedo struck the port side
near the engine room. The engines stopped after the second hit, and the entire
midsection of the ship was blown to pieces. As the ship listed port and began sinking, a third explosion, believed to have been bottles of acetylene gas, sealed the ship’s fate.
Of the 52 men on board, only 10 crew members, 3 Naval Armed Guard, and one
passenger survived. Cadet-Midshipmen William R. Weis, Jr. and Richard P. Farrell
were lost in the attack. Those who survived had managed to jump overboard and swim
to one of three rafts that floated free of the ship after it sank. Thirty-nine hours later,
they were rescued by the crew of the USS. Biddle (DD 151). The Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s Armed Guard officer, Ensign Kenneth H. Muir, USNR, was awarded the
Navy Cross for directing his men to safety as the ship sank, despite being severely
Cadet-Midshipman William R. Weis was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Pacific War Zone Bar the Victory
Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.
William R. Weis was the oldest of William Raymond Weis and Louella Haselton Weiss’
two children. William’s little brother, Robert, was three years younger. According to the
1930 U.S. National Census, William R. Weis, Sr. was employed as a Meat Inspector by
the City of Oakland. By the 1940 U.S. Census William was working as a switchboard
operator at Saint Rose Hospital in Hayward, CA. According to information assembled
by James Hoffman, William Weis reported for his basic training at the West Coast
Basic School’s temporary home, the Navy’s Training Base at Treasure Island in the
middle of San Francisco Bay. He was one of the earliest Cadet-Midshipmen to begin
training on the West Coast.
Photo of Launching of SS Nathaniel Hawthorne