Sep 19

The Life & Service of a World War 2 Mine Warfare Sailor. Part 2

Thursday, September 19, 2019 12:01 AM


With this blog I pickup on day four of my grandfather, Thomas D. Schreck’s journal. To recap, he was a passenger aboard the liberty ship SS Reverdy Johnson traveling to North Africa to join the ship he would serve on until the end of the war. The Reverdy Johnson was part of convoy UGS-40 which departed Norfolk, Virginia on 23 April 1944. I am writing this blog as a way to preserve his experiences for the historic record so that future generations may continue to learn from the “Greatest Generation.” As we lose more and more World War II veterans each year we also lose more of their stories and personal histories.

Monday April 24, 1944
Caught a watch, the 12 to 4. We
didn’t do much of anything today. 
Played cards and did some sun
bathing. This evening while I stood
watch, went up to the gun crews 
mess and had some decent chow. 
Those guys don’t have it too tough.

Sailors playing cards on a liberty ship
(Courtesy of the Author)


Sailors enjoying down time on a liberty ship.
(Courtesy of the Author)

Tuesday April 25, 1944
Had fire drill during chow. Chow
wasn’t any good anyways. Didn’t do
anything else of importance.

Liberty Ship SS Robert Rowan shortly after it was bombed during an Axis aerial attack in July of 1943. Demonstrates the importance of fire drills.
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Wednesday April 26, 1944
Spent the last of my money on smokes.
Hope one of the boys has some dough.
For a change we had a good chow.
Nothing else new.

My grandfather continued smoking into the 1990’s before he gave it up, although not without a fight and hiding it from my grandmother on occasion.

World War II cigarette ad
(Courtesy of the Author)

Thursday April 27, 1944
A navy blimp and Catalina have been 
with us since we left. Sure makes 
you feel better. Had G.Q. fire and
abandon ship drill. Made the day
messy as hell.

Catalina Flying Boats and Navy airships were used for convoy protection against German U-boats.

U.S. Navy PBY-6A Catalina in flight
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)


U.S. Navy airship L-8
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)


Friday April 28th
Had another sub scare. Nothing 
happened though. Saw a School 
of dolphins and kidded some boots
going aboard the Philly into believing
they were sharks. I guess the only 
real fun that we have is with the boots
and Woody & Moe. Two of our crew. Nutty
as fruitcakes but really swell fellows.

Two dolphins frolic in the crest of the USNS Waccamaw (T-AO-109)
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Elsewhere in his journal he comments on Woody and Moe. Here are those entries.

Wilbur Woods “Woody” came 
from Northern Wisconsin and is
one of the smallest, toughest and 
best liked guys in the company.
Besides being our athletic coach,
he is a petty officer in the wash-
room detail.

Merle McClellan, nice looking guy.
Women go for his baby face. Keeps us 
in stitches. Quick Witted and not as 
dumb as he acts. “Moe” or “Mo”

Saturday April 29th
Another watch to take charge. Our crew
is usually picked as P.Os because we
are older than the rest of the kids.
There are few C.G’s with us but
they banged ears for the good M.A. jobs.
Lot of rumors but no base for them.

A couple of notes on abbreviations in this entry. When he refers to being picked as P.O.’s he means his group is often chosen to serve in Petty Officer jobs aboard ship. His actual rank, however, remained a Seaman. The C.G.’s are members of the Coast Guard who served onboard the Reverdy Johnson as M.A., or Master at Arms, in a law enforcement role.

Sunday April 30th
Missed Chapel, darn it. I did my
washing in a thimble. Dirty dogs
wont let us use the
fresh water but gives
the merchant crew all they want.
Woke up to the tune of ash cans
dropping around us at 04:30. Went 
topside. Didn’t want to be below
if we caught a fish. D.E.’s claim
a “possible sub sinking”. Hope to
hell its true.

This entry points to the separation between the crew of the ship and the sailors who are traveling aboard. Even though sailors traveling aboard may be used for watches and serve in other capacities they are still not part of the crew. The Merchant Marine crew and sailors assigned to the ship as gun crew got first priority.

The Entry also mentions the possible submarine sinking by a D.E. or Destroyer Escort. The D.E.’s were assigned to the convoy as protection for the liberty ships and other lightly armed vessels in the convoy. Among the Destroyer Escorts was the USS Decker (DE-47) pictured below. There is no record of a confirmed sub sinking by any ship in convoy UGS-40.

USS Decker (DE-47)
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Monday May 1st
Didn’t do much except 
play cards and bat the breeze. 
Saw some Flying fish.

Tuesday May 2
Nothing doing except drills.
Starting to get Bored.

Tuesday May 2nd
My error. Met two boys from 
home. Nice to see somebody like
that. Both going to Philly.

Starting with his next entry you will begin to see that being aboard the ship as merely a passenger is starting to take its toll on my grandfather.

Wednesday May 3rd
More Bored. More drills.
More lousy chow.

Thursday May 4th
And bored

Friday May 5th
And bored.

Saturday May 6th
And bored.

Sunday May 7th
Went to church. Felt more
secure. Should go oftener. Wrote
a letter to Mom. One to Impy.

My great grandmother Maude Johnson Schreck, Thomas D. Schreck’s mother, pictured here in 1950.
(Courtesy of the Author)

By the next day my grandfather mentions the first signs of seeing land as they approach North Africa. Next month’s blog entry will pick up there.

Enjoy the author’s earlier posts here:

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