Honoring the courage, sacrifice, valor of the U.S. Merchant Marine on Memorial Day
Each Memorial Day, Americans gather to pay tribute to those who have been lost serving our nation. As part of this year’s observance, I had the honor of escorting two World War II Merchant Marine veterans, VADM Bob Scarborough, USCG (Ret.) and Mr. Jack Krogmann, who presented a wreath at the National World War II Memorial to recognize the service of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
After meeting these two, I feel compelled to share Jack Krogmann’s story. During World War II, he served as a 3rd Mate in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean while completing his training at the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). Mr. Krogmann served on two American vessels that fell victim to enemy submarine attacks.
He was a crew member on the S.S. Excello, which was struck by an exploding torpedo as the ship transited off the coast of South Africa on November 13, 1942. After the impact, Mr. Krogmann and other surviving crew members abandoned the sinking ship and took to life boats. For almost three days, they fought tough sea conditions and dwindling supplies before landing at Port Saint Johns, South Africa.
Mr. Krogmann then signed onboard the M.V. Dona Aurora. On Christmas Day 1942, about 200 miles off the coast of Brazil, a torpedo struck the vessel’s engine room. Like the Excello, the Dona Aurora sunk just minutes after being attacked. Luckily, Mr. Krogmann and many of his fellow crewmembers were able to escape the burning vessel. Evacuating to three lifeboats, they were adrift for nearly 36 hours before being rescued by an English vessel and ferried to Trinidad.
A survivor of two submarine torpedo attacks in less than six weeks, Jack Krogmann was one of more than 215,000 Americans who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. It was our Merchant Marine that sailed repeatedly into harm's way to maintain the vital supply lines that fueled a worldwide effort to liberate our Allies from tyranny. Mr. Krogmann was among the fortunate as nearly one in 30 merchant mariners did not survive the war.
Among those who perished were 142 of his fellow USMMA classmates. By the war's end, the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered one of the highest casualty rates of any branch of service.
Since 1775, our merchant mariners have faced extreme risk and given their lives to transport essential goods and equipment to support our armed forces as well as evacuating military personnel and civilians from danger.
On this Memorial Day, we salute all the brave men and women who have served our great nation and defended our freedom. To those who made it home and to the families of those that made the ultimate sacrifice, I join all Americans today in saying a heartfelt “Thank You.”