The Trainor men who sailed the Liberty ships in WWII
Shortly after graduating from
High School in June 1940, my father, Kenneth Charles Trainor went to work for Clyde-Mallory Lines (CML), a private shipping company that operated passenger ships between
New York and
Florida. His first job was aboard the SS Shawnee, a coastwise passenger steamship as a wiper, a general handy man in the engine room. The ship departed
Jacksonville on Aug. 12, 1940 for
New York and returned to
Jacksonville seven days later. In August 1941, Kenneth worked on another CML coastwise passenger steamship, the SS Seminole, again as a wiper. In between these brief stints at sea, he worked in
Jacksonville as a truck driver and a glazer at the French Mirror Plate Glass Company and as a salesman at the Carter’s House to House Advertising Service. He probably did not know it at the time, but he wouldn’t sail again until the outbreak of World War II, under extremely different circumstances.
- SS Shawnee (1927, Clyde-Mallory Lines) - chartered for cruise service in 1941 to replace ships requisitioned by the War Department
- SS Seminole (1925-26, owned by Cherokee-Seminole SS Corporation and managed by Clyde-Mallory Lines) - formerly a passenger ship; used as a hospital ship during World War II; and scrapped in the 1950's
Prior to the war Kenneth was considered a civilian mariner who was employed by private shipping companies and represented by the National Maritime Union to carry goods, supplies and people on cargo and passenger ships around the world. However, during World War II, merchant vessels were nationalized under the War Shipping Administration and turned into armed warships. The government, through the U.S. Maritime Service, recruited and supplied the necessary seamen by opening training academies around the country.
Kenneth, Alexander and Glenn officially joined the Merchant Marine in Jacksonville during the early 1940s.
The three brothers headed off to U.S. Maritime Service Training Stations for rigorous 90-day boot camps to prepare them for life at sea. Kenneth was sent to the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station in
St. Petersburg, Florida in January 1942. He graduated on May 7, 1942 at the rank of Apprentice Seaman and was sent to
New Orleans, Louisiana to the U.S. Maritime Service pool, better known as a graduate station to await orders for assignments to merchant ships that carried troops, supplies or ammunition.
During the next two years, Kenneth was employed on the SS City of Philadelphia, SS Meriwether Lewis, Chiloil (oil tanker), USAT Liberty Glo, SS Cyrus H. McCormick, SS William L. Yancy and SS Edward W. Bok during which time he held the rank of Ordinary Seaman and Able Seaman.
- SS Meriwether Lewis - torpedoed and lost in the
North Atlantic, 1943
- SS Cyrus H. McCormick - torpedoed and lost off
Brest, France, 1945
- SS William L. Yancey - sold private 1947, scrapped 1969
- SS Edward W. Bok - sold private 1947, scrapped 1970
- torpedoed by Japanese submarine, January 11, 1942, 10 miles southwest of
Strait, situated between the islands of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia
He then enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Service Officers’ School at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut. He graduated as a Navigation Officer from the 39th Class of the Officers’ School on Oct. 12, 1944 at the rank of Ensign (Deck Department), and was immediately employed on the SS Milton J. Foreman as a Third Mate for five tours from Nov. 11, 1944 through Dec. 10, 1945. During his last two years in the Merchant Marine, Kenneth was employed on the SS Roger Williams from March 14, 1946 through Nov. 27, 1946. He received an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard on Nov. 27, 1946. Kenneth’s monthly pay, while in the Merchant Marines ranged from $21 per month as an Apprentice Seaman to $375 per month as a Third Mate.
- SS Milton J. Foreman - sold private 1947, scrapped 1965
- SS Roger Williams- sold private 1947, sunk 1965
In the early days of the war, most merchant ships weren't armed, so crews disguised telephones poles mounted on the ships to look like guns, their only recourse against attack. Later on, ships became armed with guns that were manned by mariners and a special unit of the U.S. Navy, the Armed Guard, whose joint assignment was to deliver the troops, armament, ammunition, planes, fuel and supplies to all fronts. Standing regular watches, handling winches and cargo gear, cooking meals, checking engine room equipment and manning the guns was the life of a merchant marine. As soon as a ship left port it was "on the front line," subject to attack by German U-boats, battleships, bombers, Kamikazes and sea mines. Mariners fought desperately to save their ships and their own lives against enemy attack. Many ships, with invasion barges ready to lower, brought troops to the beaches under enemy fire. Because of the danger, other ships traveling in the convoy were not allowed to stop and help ships that had been attacked.
One of the most dangerous voyages mariners faced were the ones to the Russian
Murmansk, above the Artic Circle on the
Barents Sea. In July 1942, Alexander Trainor, a chief engineer and U.S. Maritime Service Officers' School graduate, took part in the most deadly of the 40 convoys to
Murmansk, “Convoy PQ17,” which left
Iceland carrying cargo worth $700 million. This convoy slowly plodded through the
Atlantic and was the lifeline of the Allied campaign in
Europe during World War II. The Germans knew that if they could cut that lifeline, they would be that much closer to victory. The convoy was forced to follow the coastline of Nazi-occupied
Norway and was not only threatened by submarines but subject to attack by land-based aircraft and surface vessels from Norwegian ports. These hazards were compounded by the brutal and often unpredictable weather. Finally, throughout the Artic summer, the convoy was forced to tread their way north fully exposed in 24 hours of daylight. Only 11 or the 34 merchant ships reached the
Murmansk, making it one of the most deadly operations during the war. Alexander took part on many convoys to Europe and Russia as well as to Asia and Japan.
In World War II, the Merchant Marines had the greatest casualty rate of any branch of service – about 9,300 mariners died at sea, more than 12,000 wounded and 604 men and women were held prisoners of war. More than 800 American ships were sunk and countless mariners died on shore of their injuries after their ships were shot at from the air, hit by torpedoes or blown up by floating mines. The infamous “Murmansk Runs” claimed one in every eight ships.
It was a miracle that the three brothers survived the war and returned home after engaging in landings from
Britain and the Pacific.
The Trainor “boys” helped deliver the goods, and may we never forget their service to this country as well as the service of nearly 270,000 mariners of the U.S. Merchant Marine during the Second World War.
During the early days of the Vietnam War there was a high demand for experienced mariners. The U.S. Government tracked down Alexander, who was living in Sunrise, Florida and in his early 50s, to see if he was interested in going back to sea. Having his own business and raising a family, he turned down the government's offer. But, The Merchant Marine tradition continued with Alexander's grandsons Jonathan Alexander Sichel and Alexander Russell Sichel. Jonathan graduated in 2003 and Alexander in 2004 from the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point,
Long Island, New York.
- Alexander Horace Trainor - b. July 1, 1919, Troy, NY; d. May 30, 1980, Massapequa, NY
- Kenneth Charles Trainor - b. Feb. 9, 1921; Niskayuna, NY; d. Dec. 12, 2007, Tallahassee, FL
- Glenn Weston Trainor - b. May 11, 1924, Burnt Hills, NY; d. Jan. 15, 1999, Savannah, GA
Parents Letter to Alexander, Kenneth and Glenn; first reactions to D-Day
When Sarah Catherine and Alexander William Trainor heard the news that the invasion of Europe had begun they sent a letter to their three sons at sea. It represents their first reactions to the news of D-Day. The letter appeared in the Daily Worker and the Norfolk Virginian Pilot newspapers on June 9, 1944.
In the wake of the tremendous news of the Allied invasion of Hitler's fortress Europe, the "Pilot" received a copy of a letter written by two parents to their three sons in the Merchant Marine, which shows even better than a short, punchy news bulletin the great democratic tidal-wave character of the war against fascism. When Sally and Al Trainor heard the news that the invasion of Europe had begun, the first thing they thought of doing was to write to their three sons, Alexander, Kenneth and Glenn, all merchant seamen, to offer encouragement. Kenneth and Glenn are both AB's and NMU members - Al is a member of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. Following is the full text of Mr. and Mrs. Trainor's letter.
To Our Dear Sons; Al, Ken and Glenn:
The news has finally broke that the beginning of the end is underway for the enemies of all mankind and Mother and I have the radio going keeping in touch with the general operations in which each of you boys, wherever you may be, are playing your individual role. This day will be one long remembered by your comrades-in-arms, yourselves, your children and their children. It may be that the ship's company of each of your ships are at this minute in the convoy lanes to the beachheads, or it may be that already you have reached those beachheads and are returning for further operations from the British arsenal of men and supplies.
Whether or not this is a fact, you three boys have played a vanguard role along with your seamen comrades in laying the first foundation for this historic moment. Never again in the future history of our world will men be given the task which history has assigned you boys and your comrades. Much difficulty lies ahead, but the graver responsibility is now taken over by many others whose tasks lie in carrying the penalty of aggression and treason to the common enemy. Your tasks will still be to continue to supply those who have this assignment.
We pledge to you three boys and your comrades, wherever they may be, that we, too, on the home front will carry just a determinedly to the agents of the enemy, in whatever form or expression they may assume, the same penalties here that will be visited upon their masters in the Axis strongholds. These penalties will be the task of forever rendering them incapable of again visiting upon the sons and daughters of all men and women for all time, the curse of war, aggression and enslavement. Today is the world's day of the declaration of dignity of all the world's peoples.
There is little more to say, my boys - there is much more to do. Mother and I patiently await word of your part played in this great event, knowing that much time will pass before we can hope for direct word from you and that when it comes we shall be proud in the knowledge that you and your comrades-in-arms have lived up to the best traditions of your people, your country and your class - the working people of the nation and the world.
Good luck to you, each of you, every mother's son and daughter directly or indirectly engaged in the great undertaking begun this day. We will keep the faith of the home front. Our love and best wishes are with you every hour, every minute. The days of lasting peace for many generations are nearer and clearer now.
Dad and Mother
My father's class photo (first row, third from left) while he was enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Service Officers’ School at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut. He graduated as a Navigation Officer from the 39th Class of the Officers’ School on Oct. 12, 1944 at the rank of Ensign.
My father on watch at his station on Liberty ship. He served as a Navigation Officer (Deck Department) in the Merchant Marine during World War II.
My father while at the U.S. Maritime Service Officers’ School at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut.
My father, the seaman, during the Second World War.
The S.S. Roger Williams was one of many Liberty Ships that my father served on during WWII. (March 14, 1946 through Nov. 27, 1946)
After graduating from U.S. Maritime Service Officers’ School at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut as a Navigation Officer on Oct. 12, 1944 at the rank of Ensign, my father served on the SS Milton J. Foreman as a Third Mate for five tours from Nov. 11, 1944 through Dec. 10, 1945.
Another ship my father served on was the S.S. William L. Yancy. It was sold by the government after WWII in 1947, and then later scrapped in 1969.
After my father's stint on the SS Cyrus H. McCormick it was torpedoed and lost off Brest, France in 1945.
After my father's stint on the U.S.A.T. Liberty Glo, it was torpedoed by Japanese submarine, Jan. 11, 1942, 10 miles southwest of Lombok Strait, situated between the islands of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia.
After my father's stint on the SS Meriwether Lewis, it was torpedoed and lost in the North Atlantic in 1943.
"I hold no other branch in higher esteem than the Merchant Marine," said General Douglas MacArthur.
"Mariners delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, most difficult and most dangerous job ever undertaken," said President Franklin D. Roosevelt.