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"I made up my mind I wasn’t going to sail the North Atlantic again because it was too rough." (Audio Interview, 5:16)

   Charles Jesse Phillips
Collection image
Charles Jesse Phillips in uniform, with his grandmother [1945]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Merchant Marine
Unit: SS William Dean Howells; SS William James; SS J. B. Miller; SS Jane G. Swisshelm; SS Stephen B. Elkens; SS Alcoa Planter
Service Location: Atlantic Ocean; Caribbean Sea; Pacific Theater; Baltic Sea; English Channel
Rank: Able Bodied Seaman
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Charles Phillips’ World War II stint in the Merchant Marine kept him one step ahead of disaster. He had a superstition about sailing on the same ship twice, and several times, ships he was on were heavily damaged. After several perilous voyages across the stormy North Atlantic, he vowed to sail only the Pacific; on his second Pacific voyage, he rode out a powerful typhoon near Okinawa that blew away over 8 million feet of lumber he had just helped deliver. Still, he admits that if he hadn’t gotten married, he would have made a career out of sailing, he loved it so much.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (4 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (32 min.)
»Photo Album  (5 photos)
 Other Materials
»Information about Merchant Marine ships
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»They Also Served: Coast Guard and Merchant Marine
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (4 items)
Merchant Marine not under jurisdiction of Armed Services; claims that FDR wanted to make sure that the older sailors could stay with their ships during and after the war; training at Sheepshead Bay; shipped out of NY through the Panama Canal to the New Hebrides; many ships sunk by torpedoes; picked up 10,000 tons of nitrate explosives in Chile for U.S.; in Savannah when he saw Japanese POWs unloading the ship; he left, recalling the kamikaze attacks from his voyage to the Pacific; rough voyages across the North Atlantic; one with huge load of railroad ties for Antwerp, could not deliver them because of ongoing fighting; headed back to the States, collided with a freighter in convoy and only the ties kept his ship from sinking; they made it back to NY and unloaded; the ship sank. (04:16) Decided not to sail North Atlantic again because of high seas; from Oregon to New Hollandia; cannibals helped them unload; sailors would disappear if they wandered too far from camp; Japanese spies living in partially submerged ship in harbor broadcasting Allied movements to Tokyo Rose; another voyage from Oregon to Okinawa with over 8.5 million feet of lumber; typhoon with winds of 250mph in harbor at Okinawa blew all the lumber out to sea; a second storm blew one ship across the bow of Phillips’ vessel and the other ship sank; conditions impossible for rescuing anyone from other ship. (05:16) Would ship out for 3 or 4 months, come home for 30 days; if you were not shipping out on schedule, you could get drafted; if he hadn't got married, he might have kept on sailing; no drinking, no fights aboard ship; armed personnel on ship for protection, mostly for show; volunteered to work a hot gun that ejected a shell right into him; his body blocked the shell from igniting ammunition stores behind him. (03:21)
On voyage back to San Francisco, just before Christmas, they were diverted to Mobile; chief cook, expecting to see his family in CA for Christmas, had a breakdown, threatened other men, almost went over the side; he was locked up and transferred to a hospital in Mobile; last voyage was to Le Havre; people living in primitive conditions, as the town had been virtually destroyed; signed up for another voyage in NY; after going to 3 movies in Times Square, decided he'd had enough; signed release papers, took a bus back home, even leaving some dry cleaning behind. (02:36)  

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  October 26, 2011
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