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Interview with James Stancil [9/15/2004]

Michael Willie:

Today is Wednesday, September 15th, 2004, and this is the beginning of an interview with James Harding Stancil at the Life Care -- oh, I'm sorry -- Erlanger HealthLink Plus, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mr. Stancil was born on June 20th, 1921, and is now 83 years old. Is that correct?

James Stancil:

That's correct.

Michael Willie:

Okay. My name is Michael Willie, and I'll conduct this interview. Mr. Stancil, could you state for the recording your name and its spelling please.

James Stancil:

My name is James Harding Stancil spelled S-t-a-n-c-i-l.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And during which war did you serve, Mr. Stancil?

James Stancil:

I served during World War II.

Michael Willie:

And in which branch of the service?

James Stancil:

I was in the Merchant Marine.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Where were -- where were you born, Mr. Stancil?

James Stancil:

I was born in a little tobacco town in eastern North Carolina called Kenly in Johnston County. It's about 50 miles east of the capital of Raleigh.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Now, tell me about your family, did you have any brothers or sisters growing up?

James Stancil:

I have two brothers who were also in the Merchant Marine, I brought clippings of that with me, and two sisters.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

James Stancil:

One of my sisters is deceased. The rest of us four children are still alive.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, you were born in did you say Kenly?

James Stancil:

Kenly, K-e-n-l-y.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now --

James Stancil:

In Johnston County.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Were you raised there, did you spend your formative years in Kenly?

James Stancil:

I wasn't actually born in Kenly. I was born on a farm about five miles outside of Kenly, and I lived there in North Carolina, we lived in several -- we lived in Wilson and we lived in Nashville and we also lived in Goldsboro.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

James Stancil:

We moved to Chattanooga in 1929, August of 1929 from Wilson.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, maybe with your dad, was your dad looking for work?

James Stancil:

My dad -- It was because of my mother's health, and my dad was at that time a guard at the local county stockade, Wilson County stockade.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

James Stancil:

But we had to move back to Chattanooga to the mountains. Mother was from Tennessee originally anyway. And the climate there did not -- wasn't good for her health at the time, at least the doctors told her that. So we moved to Chattanooga because mother had a sister who lived here, and dad found work here.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So then is Chattanooga then where you spent much of your formative years up through --

James Stancil:

Ever since I was eight years old I've lived in Chattanooga.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Now, did you graduate high school?

James Stancil:

I graduated from the old Chattanooga High School on Third Street.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Then what did you do after high school?

James Stancil:

After high school -- well, for two years of high school and one year at the University of Chattanooga which that's what it was then. It wasn't University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It was University of Chattanooga. I worked at the -- in a cotton mill, Central Franklin Processing Company on Holtzclaw Avenue. In my junior and senior year of high school and one year of college, I worked at night there. Then after high school in May of 1940 I went to work at Combustion Engineering Company building boilers.

Michael Willie:

All right. Okay. And that was good work. I mean --

James Stancil:

Well, I quit one job making 33 cents an hour and went to work at Combustion for 40 cents an hour. So I got myself a 7-cent raise by changing jobs.

Michael Willie:

Okay. But did that mean you had to leave school to get that?

James Stancil:

I had to leave school because I couldn't afford the tuition, and I couldn't afford to work eight hours a day and go to school too. When I worked at Central Franklin, I worked five hours of the evening except on Friday nights, and I also worked eight hours on Saturday when I was there. They made room for me to work part-time that way in high school. But when I went to work at Combustion, I couldn't do that, and I -- it was too much to try to work and the family needed the money anyway and Depression was still on, believe it or not. A lot of people give Roosevelt credit for bringing us out of the Depression. He didn't bring us out of the Depression anymore than Hitler brought Germany out or Mussolini brought Italy out. We all came out when World War II started.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So you were working then, did you say you went to Combustion then in May of 1940?

James Stancil:

I went to work there in May of 1940 --

Michael Willie:

Okay.

James Stancil:

-- as a helper on a machine and was working there at the time I entered the service in 1942.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, do you remember when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed?

James Stancil:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

Where were you?

James Stancil:

I had -- I was in the habit of there's some boys I worked with at Combustion who lived in Cleveland, Tennessee, and every Friday night we would go to Cleveland, their mothers lived there, they would board here in Chattanooga during the week and then go home on the weekend. And there was a square dance between Cleveland and Benton, Tennessee, a place called Pleasant Gardens at that time, and we would go square dancing on Friday and Saturday night. Incidentally, that's how I met my wife. The first date I had with her I went square dancing. At any rate, we had -- I had been square dancing Saturday night and spent the night with one of my friends, and I was on the way home from Cleveland in my automobile. I believe I had an old '38 Hudson Super Six. Anyway, I was on the way home, and I heard it on the radio between Cleveland and Chattanooga that Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Michael Willie:

Now, there was a sense that we were going to be in the war eventually anyway, wasn't there?

James Stancil:

Yes. Incidentally, I was prior to that, I was in the State Guard. The National Guard was activated into the regular Army, you know, and they formed the State Guard to take the place of the National Guard. I was a drill sergeant in the State Guard at the time up until I went into the Merchant Marine. And at that time Colonel Bernett Sizer (ph) who was a law partner of Wester Kiefoffer (ph) was our colonel and Buck Dietson (ph) used to be a city judge here was my captain in the State Guard. And then when I went into the service, I went in on October 19th, 1942.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, why did you -- why did you join the Merchant Marine?

James Stancil:

Well, several things caused it. In the first place I wanted to go into the glider and become a glider pilot. I had the papers and everything, going to sign them and take them back, but I had a -- my best friend, he's like a brother, my children all call him uncle, he was in the Army already, the first draft got him, and he was stationed at Keesler Field, Mississippi where they were training the glider pilots. He wrote me and told me to forget about it, that half of them were killed before they ever got through their training. So that changed my mind on that. And then I had a six-month draft deferment because of my father was at the time in the Veterans Hospital in Johnson City. He was a World War I veteran. But the draft board got itchy or something on me, I don't know, and in the meantime I was told about the Merchant Marine by another boy that I knew that was in it, and I made inquiries, and they sent me orders to report on the 19th of October in Nashville. Well, the draft wasn't going to get me until the 25th, so no problem, but I wasn't trying to evade the draft, it was the fact that I was wanting to go into the service of my own choosing. And after inquiring about the Merchant Marine, of course if I had known what I know now, I doubt that I would have or I would have let them draft me, but...

Michael Willie:

You never know actually.

James Stancil:

But we were sent from Nashville to Birmingham which I had to take two different physicals, one for the Navy and one for the Merchant Marine Maritime Service. The reason for that is everybody at that time had to join the Naval Reserve for two years because the Maritime Service did not have a brig or any way of punishing evildoers or somebody breaking the rules. They would ship you over to the Navy if you did. But so I joined -- we were examined and sworn in in Birmingham, put on a train, sent to St. Petersburg, Florida, boot camp.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, let's talk about that. Had you ever been really away from home, that far away from home at least on your own?

James Stancil:

Nothing other than eastern Carolina and to Jacksonville. I think I went to Jacksonville to visit an aunt one time right after I got out of high school. I had never been too far from home at any long period of time, let's put it that way.

Michael Willie:

But still, you were just 21 years old at that time, right?

James Stancil:

I was close to it, yes, sir.

Michael Willie:

Now, you had -- you had mentioned earlier that you had met your wife square dancing. Had you met her yet? Were you dating at that time?

James Stancil:

Well, the boys I ran around with that lived in Cleveland was dating her first cousin, and one night he asked -- I got a blind date, they got me a blind date with her. We were going square dancing, and rather than me just acting as a stag up there, I had my own partner. So that's how I met my wife through her first cousin.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So at that time then when you joined the Merchant Marine, were you dating at that time, were you corresponding, was there an understood --

James Stancil:

I was dating her at the time. We were not engaged yet, but we were -- I was going steady with her. I wasn't dating any other girl at the time. Prior to that, I won't say. I dated several girls before her. But when I met her, she was it, so...

Michael Willie:

Okay. Let's talk about your boot camp then in St. Petersburg. All right. What is your first impression of boot camp there? What is it like?

James Stancil:

Well, it's kind of hard to describe. I'd never been in anything like that. It was strictly military all the way through, organized. We were organized into sections they called us of 60 men in each barrack, and 60 cots in a barrack. And we were marched -- everything we did we would march: to eat, to class. But one thing about the Merchant Marine at that time, between that time I joined the Merchant Marine and say March or April of the next year, we lost more ships and men than any other period in the war. So four hours out of every eight in the boot camp when I went in was in a lifeboat. We either were being drilled on what the lifeboat should contain as supplies, how to row the boat, how to launch the boat, and everything pertaining to the the lifeboat. That's why in those records I gave you, you'll find a lifeboat ticket or permit. They automatically gave, when we got out, a lifeboat ticket. We didn't have to sit for an examination because we would spend four hours out of every eight. The other classes was in other things dealing with a sailor's life. We were also on a training ship in Tampa Bay. I trained on the smallest square-rigged sailing ship ever built was the Joseph Conrad. It was a gift to America by Denmark. Denmark had used it to train their cadets on, and it would make a two-year around-the-world trip. Denmark was giving it to us as a training ship in World War II, and we trained on that. We were on that for about two weeks out in Tampa Bay and in squalls and everything else. That was an experience in itself on a sailing ship.

Michael Willie:

Did you get sick?

James Stancil:

Hard work. I mean, hard work. The skipper was a fellow by the name of Shufford (ph), and we'd be freezing to death early in the morning out there in the bay, we'd put on everything we had in order to keep warm, and he'd be standing up there in his shorts and nothing on above his waist and had enough hair on him he looked like a gorilla, with a fog horn yelling giving out orders. And he would make us lower a lifeboat off the ship and get it under way and get into the lifeboat and then row, and we'd row until we had blisters on our hands, and he'd call us in, and they'd lower us a bottle of water or a jug of water and shove off and row some more. We learned how to man a lifeboat, let's put it that way, without any problems because it was thoroughly drilled into us both when we were on the training ship and ashore also. It was -- and considering the fact that we lost more men killed percentagewise than any branch of the Armed Forces and we had more men casualties, the lifeboat drill was -- we heard horror stories of men who were out days and days. I was only out there for three days when we were torpedoed. But some of the men didn't survive the lifeboat if they were out there because one thing about it, in convey and out at sea during World War II, we weren't allowed to stop and pick up any survivors. We'd leave him. He was on his own if he got torpedoed. And if you stopped, you're a sitting duck for another torpedo.

Michael Willie:

And at that time --

James Stancil:

Go back, well, I digressed a little bit from boot camp.

Michael Willie:

That's all right, but I'm just saying during that time the U-boats were very active all up and down the east coast, right?

James Stancil:

Oh, yes.

Michael Willie:

I don't think a lot of people realize how active they were and how close they actually were.

James Stancil:

I have a map with dots on it of the ships that was lost up and down the east coast, something like 300 some odd ships, and they didn't -- the people weren't told about it, and we had -- we had some news commentators who told all kind of lies about the Merchant Marine, Walter Winchell and Westbrook Pegler were two of them, told blatant lies about what happened in Bari, Italy, just out-and-out lies and things like that. But the public wasn't told what was happening at the Merchant Marine. They didn't want to alarm the public. We had men in the Philippines, sure, that was dying at the time and the Bataan Death March and so forth, and we had men in other places, but the war was going on on our east coast, they weren't told. The submarines could even see the lights of Miami or Wilmington or New York City, Philadelphia, any of them from out to sea, they didn't black them out for the first two years of the war.

Michael Willie:

And even before the war, right?

James Stancil:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

I mean up in the North Atlantic with the I guess it was Lend-Lease, is that what it was?

James Stancil:

Yeah, Lend-Lease.

Michael Willie:

All right. Let's go back to your training then at Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg. How long did it take you to get to toughen those hands up?

James Stancil:

Well, we -- we did a little rowing or something like that just about every day. And by the time I got out, my hands were like leather on the inside when they shipped us out to New Orleans.

Michael Willie:

Did you ever get seasick when you were out there?

James Stancil:

Well, that's a funny thing. I was telling you about the Joseph Conrad and my experience there. We were in Tampa Bay, and the skipper -- There was a squall coming up which is a storm. The skipper sent another fellow and I aloft to furl the top mainsail, the topsail on the mainmast. And we got up there to bring it in and tie it to the yard arm. Well, we tied ourselves to the yard arm too because the ship was just doing that (indicating) and looked like it was going to kiss the water. And we were too scared to get sick. And the skipper hollering, Come down from there. No. We just tied ourselves to the yard arm because down was sliding down a rope. We called them rattlins, a rope. Only way getting down was sliding down that rope. Well, you might start sliding down one way and wind up the other way, the way the ship was rolling. So I said then, I said if I didn't get seasick then, I never would. I never did get seasick.

Michael Willie:

You're lucky.

James Stancil:

I know. I've treated many a case of it.

Michael Willie:

So how long were you actually there in St. Petersburg in training in Tampa Bay?

James Stancil:

Well, they shipped us out on New Year's Eve 1943, from October to New Year's Eve, to New Orleans. They had a graduate training station on Lake Pontchartrain, the Maritime Service did. At that time I had put in for cadet training in Pass Christian, Mississippi. They had a cadet training school. I had put in, applied to it, but it still hadn't come through yet, so they shipped me to New Orleans, and we got in there on New Year's Day 1943. And they gave all of us that wanted a pass to go to the football game, and I watched Tennessee beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on that day.

Michael Willie:

There you go.

James Stancil:

We were in New Orleans -- I wasn't there very long. We trained lifeboat again on Lake Pontchartrain, all the time, sailing in the lifeboat, how to sail it, how to row it and all, every day. And I shipped out on the 9th of January. I was supposed -- assigned to a ship, the Roger B. Taney, already in two days I was supposed to ship out on it as an able-bodied seaman, but they had my records when I applied for cadet, and I had had an awful lot of office training in school, they made me make a pier head jump we called it, an emergency, to the ship Simon Willard as purser. Well, the first voyage it was as a deck yeoman, they called it, to handle all the ship's paperwork. I didn't more know what a purser was supposed to do than I knew how to fly. I hadn't been trained in that. But anyway, the good Lord willing, I had a third mate on board that knew a little bit what my duties were and helped me quite a bit that first voyage. The skipper was a 73-year-old Irishman, had been going to sea since he was 13 years old.

Michael Willie:

Let me ask you this real quick before we get too far into this. This is then January of '44, is that what you're saying?

James Stancil:

January of '44 is when I was married.

Michael Willie:

Well, this is January of '43 then?

James Stancil:

'43, yes.

Michael Willie:

Okay, January of '43.

James Stancil:

'43 is when I shipped out.

Michael Willie:

Okay. That's what I was wondering.

James Stancil:

January 9th -- 8th or 9th, somewhere in there.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So it was New Year's Eve 1942 when you went to Lake Pontchartrain.

James Stancil:

Yeah, when we got into New Orleans on New Year's Day 1943.

Michael Willie:

New Year's Day '43. Gotcha. Okay. So then you shipped out on the Simon Willard then January 9th, 1943?

James Stancil:

On what?

Michael Willie:

No, wait a minute. January 9th is when you went on the --

James Stancil:

Simon Willard.

Michael Willie:

The Simon Willard, that's it. Okay.

James Stancil:

The Liberty ship, brand new Liberty ship, first voyage.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And you shipped out of where? Out of --

James Stancil:

Out of New Orleans.

Michael Willie:

Out of New Orleans. Okay. All right. Now, you really didn't know anything about your duties, your responsibilities as a purser, right?

James Stancil:

That's right because -- due to the need and urgency, anybody with some office training, office practice training, they were making deck yeomen, and then after that -- after I had made a voyage I was called purser, junior assistant purser. And then from junior assistant to senior assistant and then to purser and then to chief purser. When I got out I was chief purser.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, were they -- were they cranking out Liberty ships pretty quickly at this point?

James Stancil:

They were. They were cranking them out pretty quickly.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So I mean that would explain then why they needed people in there because they're cranking them out.

James Stancil:

Yes. They actually were cranking them out so fast that toward the end of the war, I know in 1944 I was in New York at Sheepshead Bay in training for Pharmacist Hospital Corps training, I had to innoculate -- 1944 they allowed 16-year-olds to join as mess boys in the mess department, steward department, and I had to innoculate a bunch of them in New York when I was in training up there. But early -- early part of the war they were -- they needed anybody and everybody that could -- that had experience at anything seafaring. So they figured I had some experience or knowledge anyway of the general office practice work, and so I lit into it. I must have fell right into it because the third mate showed me and the skipper showed me a little bit about it, and I got on. We went that first voyage was to Cape Town, South Africa.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Do you remember what you were -- what you were carrying at that time?

James Stancil:

Uh-huh.

Michael Willie:

What were you carrying?

James Stancil:

Well, they were loading the ship -- first it was they loaded raw sulfur in the lower hold, that's the bottom of the ship, at Port Sulphur, Louisiana. That's before they shifted it to New Orleans. They got to New Orleans, they were loading the ship, the cargo nets with big drums. The drums was supposed to have oil in them. I was standing there watching them one day load, the next day after I was assigned to the ship, and one of the drums fell out of the cargo net onto the dock and burst open. It was black gunpowder. They loaded that in on top of the sulfur. On top of that we were carrying 22 torpedoes. We were carrying everything with ammunition, munitions that we had aboard. If we had been torpedoed, I wouldn't be sitting here.

Michael Willie:

At least it would have been quick, right?

James Stancil:

I wouldn't have known what hit me.

Michael Willie:

Right. Does that concern you when you know all that's there or is it you just put it out of your mind?

James Stancil:

You have to put it out of your mind. You can't dwell on something like that. Every ship I was on up until V-E Day carried munitions of some sort plus other cargo too. But then V-E Day that was a different proposition, I had 10,000 tons of flour on board, that voyage.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So your first -- your first trip now. You're sailing out of -- out of Louisiana?

James Stancil:

Out of New Orleans. We were in a submarine warning in the Windward Passage in the Caribbean. We broke -- we weren't in convoy. There was three of our ships made a run for Cape Town, and only one of us got in there. From Cape Town we came back.

Michael Willie:

Now, when you -- when that happened, you're not actually -- even in a convoy, can you actually see what's going on or you just get word of what's going on? You said two of them didn't make it in.

James Stancil:

How do you mean?

Michael Willie:

Can you actually see other ships?

James Stancil:

Other ships?

Michael Willie:

In your convoy?

James Stancil:

Oh, yes, yes. They were each -- When you're in convoy, each ship had a position. You're to be so many yards apart on starboard or port side of the ship, so many yards ahead of it, so many yards behind it. Your position was -- the skippers all went to what they called a briefing, naval briefing, before the voyage begins, and each ship was assigned a position in that convoy. Each skipper was given sealed orders. He didn't know where we were going. He didn't know and nobody else did until we were past the 3-mile limit at sea.

Michael Willie:

All right. So when you say you -- three ships made a run for Cape Town then --

James Stancil:

Well, there were three ships started out, and we started out in a convoy, but some of them broke off. Three of us broke off from the convoy headed for Cape Town, and the Roger B. Taney that I was supposed to be on was sunk.

Michael Willie:

Really.

James Stancil:

And so I missed that one. We made it to Cape Town all right.

Michael Willie:

And were you aware that the Roger B. Taney had been hit when you --

James Stancil:

No, I wasn't aware of that until after the war actually.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Because I mean that's a stroke of luck.

James Stancil:

Well, no, not after the war. I did hear about it being sunk because a good friend of mine was on it. In fact, I still owe him money, owe him $3 for a seaman's wallet that he bought me in New Orleans.

Michael Willie:

Hold on one second. [Part 2]

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, let's talk about life on -- actually on a Liberty ship.

James Stancil:

All right.

Michael Willie:

What are your accommodations like, your bunks?

James Stancil:

Well, in my case I was an officer, and I had my own cabin. I had a double bunk in the cabin, but I only used one, the top bunk, and lower bunk I had some files, all kinds of different forms we had to use in there. I had a typewriter in my cabin. I also had a -- had a form, I forget what they called it now, but it was a gelatin-like thing that you could duplicate, make copies of something from. You typed it first, an original, on a special ribbon, indelible ink ribbon like, and then you'd put that on there, and you could -- on the gelatin, and it would absorb it, and then you would lay sheets on it and make as many copies as you wanted. That was your original copier.

Michael Willie:

Wow, isn't that something.

James Stancil:

So we had to do that because I had to -- I had to make copies of the crew list for both the immigrations and for customs and for the shipping company and for the War Shipping Administration, had about six crew lists I had to give before we even left port. And I had to have a number of crew lists for wherever we touched port overseas. Also we had to have a cargo manifest. I handled those. The skipper actually -- On the Liberty ship the safe was in the skipper's office. Although the money was passed out by the purser in a foreign port to the crew and charted out against their account. But the safe on the Liberty ship was in the skipper's quarters. On some of the other ships it was in the purser's quarters. Later ships like a C2, they were a lot nicer ship, the quarters and everything. But the Liberty ship quarters were sparse. Every inch was figured out for what it was, the utilization. And mine especially, I didn't have as much room as the other officers because of my office equipment. I had an adding machine and a typewriter and the gelatin duplicator and all those forms that I had to fill out.

Michael Willie:

How big is the crew on a Liberty ship?

James Stancil:

Ordinarily we carried around 65 men counting the armed guard. About 40 -- I believe it was 47, 48 merchant seamen and 14 or 15 armed guard, I forget what it was. Around 65 men normal crew.

Michael Willie:

Now, how does that work with the armed guard who are technically Navy, right?

James Stancil:

They were Navy, but they were boys who knew little about the Navy, never been on a Navy ship most of them. They were given six weeks of gunnery training, how to man the guns that they were supposed to fire in the armed guard and put on a ship as armed guard, gunners. We had training in boot camp, the Merchant Marine did, on how to load and arm those guns for the guard. The armed guard were the ones that did the firing ordinarily. In one instance that I was on, the gunner got killed, and I took over the gun, but we -- we fed the ammunition to the guns if they were cannon and then the 20mm had magazines, the 20mm cannon, they shot 700, I believe it was 750 rounds a minute. Every third shell was a tracer. And the magazine loader for the magazine -- I was a loader. The barrels on those 20mm would get red hot, and you had on asbestos gloves. You'd grab the barrel and give it a twist, pull it out, drop it down the side of the gun turret into a big pipe full of water, and pull another barrel out of another pipe, stick it in there. You could change it in less time it takes to tell it. And go ahead and keep firing. That was on the 20mm, classified as cannon, machine gun you want to call it I guess, because the gunner that manned that gun was strapped in a cradle against his shoulders. He was strapped in like a seat belt in your car.

Michael Willie:

So was -- was typically everything you have then antiaircraft? Did you have any --

James Stancil:

No, we had a 5-inch gun on the stern. It was not an antiaircraft gun. The gun forward was a 3-inch 53 usually. You could use it against antiair. I know on one ship I was on the boys on the forward gun got credit for a German Stuka dive bomber when we were in harbor. Most of it was antiaircraft, and with the stern gun and the forward guns too, they could be used as antipersonnel or anything for that matter. I mean, if we were to -- a submarine was to surface next to us, we could use the 20mm on them.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, talk about the food. I've heard a lot about the food on the Liberty ships. Pretty good?

James Stancil:

Compared to the Navy, good. That's one thing about that attracted men to the Armed Guard, their ships fed better than the Navy, they said. Some of them volunteered for Armed Guard and some of them they were -- they volunteered, the Navy volunteered for them. But fairly good food. Most cases the ships I was on the chief steward, we had good cooks and he knew what he was doing. And although one voyage I made which was my second voyage I believe on the John A. Dix, we left the States with three-month supplies and were gone about eight months. And the food on there got pretty scarce, and we got -- we could not pick up on that voyage, we went over into the Middle East where they're fighting now, we were in India, we couldn't pick up fresh vegetables in India, the fruits are nothing because of the indemic nature of cholera over there, and they would not let us have anything. All we could do was get C rations from the Army food depot. So we were eating the same thing the boys in the foxhole were for a while. And when we had enough food aboard to last us to the end of the voyage, we were eating pretty good. But when we were gone longer than the supplies we had, it was catch-as-catch-can. I know on the voyage I made to the -- the first voyage I made to Cape Town, there's an anchorage on the Atlantic side called Saldanha Bay. We were in Saldanha, S-a-l-d-a-n-n-a-h [sic], Bay and there's a big cliff there about 200 foot just a sheer drop into the water. We were anchored there waiting for a berth in Cape Town until they wired us to come on in. There was a British destroyer, a convoy escort destroyer, there in anchorage and those boys rowed 5 or 6 miles across the bay there in a boat to come over to bum some food from us. They had been at sea for six months without going ashore. Convoy duty. And they were so hungry for anything that was bread. Our steward managed to give them quite a few sacks of flour and other comestibles that he could spare, thought he could, and it tickled them to death. But convoy duty wasn't easy for the Navy men that were on those destroyers and corvettes, little small destroyer. It wasn't easy duty. The corvette, I felt sorry for the corvettes because those things, they would rock terribly in a calm sea. They took a beating on them in heavy seas. But anyway, food ordinarily was fairly good.

Michael Willie:

Let's talk about the -- let's talk about how I guess a tour or a voyage works for a merchant seaman. They're assigned to a ship, right?

James Stancil:

[Nods].

Michael Willie:

And then once they go out, how does that work, once you -- once you finish up with the trip?

James Stancil:

Well, when you're assigned to a ship, in my case I wasn't assigned through a union hall. I went either through the War Shipping Administration or the company I was sailing with.

Michael Willie:

Being an officer, right?

James Stancil:

Aha. Well, some officers shipped out of the union halls also. They had their own union also if they weren't company men, company officers. You have to go before a war -- before a Coast Guard shipping commissioner and sign what is known as articles for the voyage. You sign on for the duration of the voyage, not for six months or three months or a year as they do now. You sign on for the duration of the voyage.

Michael Willie:

Being the starting point and then the stopping point?

James Stancil:

The duration meant from a port in the United States until you reached another United States port. Now, that could have been Puerto Rico or Hawaii, you see. They belong to the United States or were territories or the Virgin Islands. It could have been there. You could have signed off there if you want. But you had to leave America and get back to America before the voyage ended officially for you.

Michael Willie:

All right. So and that's basically it, you just sign on for that and then what happens if you, you know, if you --

James Stancil:

Now if you get sick, if you get sick or have to be put off, let's say you make a trip to England and you get sick going over there, really bad sick, something real that the corpsman on board can't handle, they hospitalize you, and the ship sails. Your money stops, your pay stops from the instant you leave that ship. And when you're torpedoed, our Merchant Marine, our pay stopped when we were taken prisoners of war. Our pay stopped. No pay at all. I know some gentlemen right now, one old gentleman I know, a Captain Murphy, was a prisoner of war for four years, no pay. But if you --

Michael Willie:

That's the difference between the Armed Guard and the --

James Stancil:

-- Navy. The Merchant Marine. Now, the Armed Guard, their pay kept going. Ours didn't. Merchant Marine didn't. The Armed Guard's pay, they were Navy, so their pay kept on. Until they got a discharge in their hand, their pay kept on every month. But ours didn't. If our ship was sunk under us or anything happened we had to get off board the ship, then we had to be repatriated back to the States. There again, if you were off -- let's say you missed your ship for some reason, you got drunk the night before and the ship sailed the next morning and you weren't aboard, okay, you've got to wait to be repatriated back to the States. The next American ship that come along or ship coming to the States, you could sign on there as a workaway and paid you one penny when the trip was over, voyage was over, but you had to work your way or you had to work every day to pay for your berth. But I don't know, that didn't happen too often. It happened though. It did happen. And if you were sunk and in a foreign port like we were, we come into Rio de Janeiro, sailed in there and tied up to the docks, never were picked up, headed for the nearest restaurant, something to eat and drink, arrested by the Brazilian authorities for illegal entry into the country, didn't have a thing but the clothes on our back. The American Consul come the next morning and got us out of jail, put us on a train, sent us up to Bahia, Brazil.

Michael Willie:

Let's get a little more in depth on this story. On what ship were you at this time now?

James Stancil:

The Roger B. Taney.

Michael Willie:

Okay. You were on the Roger B. Taney this time?

James Stancil:

Uh-huh. It was sunk later.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, let's talk about what -- how long had you actually been in the Merchant Marine at this time? Around when is this when you're sunk?

James Stancil:

I don't know. Let's see, I had been in maybe a year.

Michael Willie:

So the Roger B. Taney, was this your second or third --

James Stancil:

My second voyage.

Michael Willie:

Your second voyage. Okay. What are you carrying at this time?

James Stancil:

Munitions mostly. We got hit in the engine room, and we lost three men is all we lost. And the three men that were in the engine room -- four men were in the engine room, one got out, the engineer got out somehow, nobody knows, but he got out with 800 degrees steam boiling on him, cooked him, cooked the flesh on his arms, just cracked open, you could see the bone. How he climbed two stories steel ladder and got out of there, I don't know, but he did, and he lived. As far as I know, he lived. I swabbed him in Vaseline and we sent him to the hospital. Last I heard he was alive, but I don't know whether he died or not.

Michael Willie:

Now, do you remember was there a warning --

James Stancil:

No.

Michael Willie:

-- when you got hit?

James Stancil:

No.

Michael Willie:

Or was this all of a sudden?

James Stancil:

No. It was about sundown they hit us. The worst time on the -- the submarines for some reason liked to hit you at sundown or sunrise, the glowing period, in other words. You could -- you could silhouette against the horizon. Their periscope would see your silhouette against the horizon a lot easier and a lot better than when the sun was shining bright glistening off the ocean. And that's when they liked to attack. I know I -- one of my duties on the first voyage, it wasn't really my duty to do it but the skipper assigned it to me and I did it anyway, was to stand watch in the crow's nest at sunset every evening, an hour before sundown and an hour after in the crow's nest and watch with binoculars for a periscope. So we made it into Cape Town thankful -- thanks to my watchfulness I reckon.

Michael Willie:

Okay. But when you're on the Roger B. Taney now, do you remember where you were when you got hit and when you realized what had happened?

James Stancil:

Yes. I was in my cabin when I got hit. There's no argument about it. You know when it happens. No matter where you are on a ship, you know when it happens. If you hit a mine, you'll know when it happens. You even know when you're under attack by submarines or -- you even know when the destroyer is attacking a submarine with the depth charges because you can feel them.

Michael Willie:

So what's your thought, when you realize what's going on, what is your thought?

James Stancil:

Huh?

Michael Willie:

What is your first thought when you realized what had happened?

James Stancil:

The first thought is grab your life preserver. Forget everything else. Get that life preserver. Our life preservers had a little flashlight that was pinned to the collar, to the shoulder. It was a little red, it would blink off and on red, so that if there was a plane flying over in the nighttime especially, they could see that red flashing, if you're in the water and a plane hunting for you. You use that on your -- Now, we did not use -- in the early part of the war they had a few of the old style kapok life preservers, cork or board-like and big hunks of it which they weren't too good. And when you go into the water if you're jumping, you hold your life preserver here and hold down, pull down on it. Otherwise when you hit the water and go in the water, the water will knock it up your chin and slip your head back and break your neck. You can break your neck with that life preserver on if you're not holding it down.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, so when you're on the Roger B. Taney then and you get hit, you grab your life preserver and you head up, right?

James Stancil:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Now are they already lowering, are they lowering --

James Stancil:

They're lowering lifeboats. We never saw -- we never saw the submarine. Never. He never surfaced on us, although we were running alone, and we never saw him. May have been his last torpedo. I don't know. We never saw him. So we managed to get all of our boats and life rafts off the ship, and everybody got off and were either on a raft or in a lifeboat.

Michael Willie:

And had any --

James Stancil:

We tied them all together by a rope and went into Rio harbor.

Michael Willie:

How long -- how long a sail was that now? How long a row was that?

James Stancil:

Oh, two to three days, somewhere in there. Wasn't very long. We had plenty of supplies on board to take care of us for that length of time. If we had been out there for weeks, it would have been something else. But we were lucky there.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Then you head into Rio?

James Stancil:

Rio.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now talk about that. You say you got arrested once you got in there?

James Stancil:

The Brazilian authorities arrested us for illegal entry into the country. That was before Brazil came into the war. In the latter part of the war they jumped in to get a little bit of icing off the cake I reckon and joined the Allies.

Michael Willie:

So when you're arrested, I mean, they have accommodations for everybody? Did they arrest everybody, is that the case?

James Stancil:

Well, they stuck us in a jail cell, about three or four to the cell. The Consul came the next day. They knew the situation, and they -- they notified the Consul. He came down, made arrangements, in other words vouched for us. And so then we were put on a train, sent to Bahia which was a naval base there. We stayed there until we were repatriated back into New Orleans.

Michael Willie:

All right. Okay. And that was your second -- your second ship, right, your second tour?

James Stancil:

Uh-huh.

Michael Willie:

Your second crew. All right. Now, when you get back into New Orleans then, is it straight back on to work or do you have some time off to kind of get your head back?

James Stancil:

Well, I went back to sea. I didn't want my mother and my parents, anybody to know about it.

Michael Willie:

Aha. Did they -- they didn't know you had been in a --

James Stancil:

They didn't know I had been torpedoed.

Michael Willie:

What about -- what about your girl friend, did you tell her?

James Stancil:

She didn't know either.

Michael Willie:

Wow. Okay.

James Stancil:

There's a funny story about that.

Michael Willie:

Aha.

James Stancil:

It's kind of weird in a way. My mother one night wouldn't go to bed, and my dad kept saying, Ethel, come on to bed. Oh, no, no. What's the matter, you sick? No. Well, I've just got a feeling something's happened to Jim. Why? Well, we haven't heard from him in a good while. Something's happened. Daddy says, Well, you know, no news is good news, and so forth. Come on to bed. No. Finally he talked her into coming to bed, but she took a calendar and marked the date on it and the time, the night, that she went to bed. Well, when I did get home after being at sea for over a year, we were sitting talking one night, and dad said, Oh, he says, can you remember back last February? And I said, What about it? He said, Anything happen to you then? I says, Well, yeah. Why? Well, I don't know, your momma wouldn't come to bed, and I tried to get her to come to bed. What happened? I told him then what happened. And mother jumped all over dad. See, there, I told you something had happened to him. She pulled the calendar out of the -- she had one of these old oval top steamer trunks. Pulled the calendar out of there, and she had marked the date, and it was the same date I was torpedoed.

Michael Willie:

Isn't that something.

James Stancil:

So I guess you want to call it mental telepathy between a mother and her son, I don't know what else you'd call it, but it was an odd experience anyway. We -- after that I got on the John A. Dix which we went to North Africa and the Mediterranean, and that's the ship we were on we left with three-month supplies and gone nearly about eight months. We shuttled German prisoners back from the Cape Bon Peninsula to Toulon Harbor and to Algiers and discharged them there. That's when they gave up on the Cape Bon Peninsula there in Liberia, about a quarter of a million German prisoners of war, and while we were in Toulon, Toulon you know was a big French naval base, it was as big as Pearl Harbor. And we had nine air raids in three hours one afternoon, German Stuka dive bombers, and they were flying overhead. Some of them were strafing the ships in the harbor and along the docks too, and some of them were leveling off -- the dive bomber would dive, what they call a diver, and as he leveled off he would launch a torpedo, and it would skim across the surface right at the ship. And so they had the torpedo bombers. But we were manning the 20mm, I was loading and the Armed Guard gunner that was firing it. They came over strafing us, and they hit him, and you see the bullets bouncing off the steel deck. And they hit him, and I unstrapped him out of the cradle and laid him inside of the gun turret. It had a circular gun turret, it was concrete, about 6 inches thick around it, each gun turret, you could see that on pictures of the ship there. I laid him on the inside thinking he'd be safe, and I took over the gun, and another merchant seaman went to loading it. They came over strafing again, and I wasn't 2 feet from him hardly, wasn't as far away from him as I am from you hardly, and they hit him again. How they missed me, I don't know. Good Lord, guardian angel, just looking after me I guess. But it killed him before we could get him midship and into the sick bay. But that was -- Now, it's a funny thing about that. I guess everybody has different feelings concerning when they're in battle. But all the time this was going on, I wasn't scared. I was mad. We were mad as a hornet. We weren't scared. When it was over with, I got so weak I couldn't stand up, I was just trembling all over. I guess many a man in a foxhole under fire or in battle experience the same way, I don't know, but that was my way of experiencing it, and a lot of others I've talked to say they were that way too. You were more mad than you were scared. If you had time to get scared, you'd go hunker down somewhere. We left there and went through the Suez Canal to Port Said, Egypt, through the Suez, through the Red Sea. This is the hot time of the year, and it was 158 degrees in the engine room. Those boys down there could only work two hours on and four hours off going through the Red Sea. We had a dust storm out at sea blowing in from Egypt, dust half-inch thick on deck, had to wash the decks down with a fire hose. That's funny to be out at sea and have a dust storm, but it happens in that part of the world. We left there through the Red Sea and left there and went into the Persian Gulf, on up to Shahdalare (ph), Khorramshahr, Iran, which is across -- right up the Euphrates River, and it's 65 miles south of Basra in Iraq. While we were there, I got to go to Basra, went to Basra and stayed two or three days. We were on a ship that carried the 10 millionth ton of supplies going to Russia into the Persian Gulf. We had -- on deck we had crated-up bombers in just big old box crates, disassembled bombers, which the American Army had put an assembly plant or they had an assembly plant over there right out of Basra, they called it the Marmagele (ph) Airport, they built an airport there at Basra in Iraq where they're at right now fighting. And they assembled these bombers and flew them 700 miles north to the Russians. And the other cargo we unloaded on flatbed trailers, and the tractor trailer would drive them over the highway up through Afghanistan that way into Russia. They would drive one light be out on the left and a light on the right out at night to keep the bandits up through the hills of Afghanistan and Iran up there from shooting the driver. They didn't know which side the driver was on.

Michael Willie:

Hold on one second. [Part 3]

Michael Willie:

Now, all during this time you're corresponding with your girl friend at the time, right?

James Stancil:

Yes. When we got into Khorramshahr, Iran, we got three-months mail at one time. It had already been gone from the States three months. And I had several letters from my mother, some from my girl friend and other people that I knew, friends. Three-months mail. Well, the skipper called me up to his room, there was nothing there but a few mud huts and just the end of the world. And he told me he had -- I wasn't a drinking man, but he gave me -- he said he only had two bottles of Johnny Dewar's White Label Scotch, said I'll give you one if you won't tell the other officers where you got it. I said, No way. So I got down to the steward department, got me a big pitcher full of pineapple juice with some ice cubes in it, took it back up to my cabin, sat down and started reading letters, and seemed like every letter was bad news. Johnny Jones stumbled and fell and broke his arm or Suzie Brown done this or that or the other and had to go to the hospital or Mrs. Jones -- that kind of stuff, you know. There I was over 7,000 miles away from home. What could I do about it? So the more letters I read, from my buddy was in the Army wrote me some bad news, seemed like bad news. Everything. So I got feeling, I started drinking. I sat down at my typewriter, and I started writing letters, and I balled out my mother, I balled out my wife, later to be wife, I balled out everybody. If you can't write me something good, don't send me nothing. I can't do nothing about it 7,000 miles away from home. And my mother later asked me why -- she said, I never got such an awful letter from you, what happened to you? I said, I was drunk. You were what? I was drunk. But I meant every word of it, I said. I had to get drunk to really say what was on my mind. But anyway, that's neither here nor there. And at the end of that voyage we came back -- well, we left there and went to Karachi, India, it was then. It's Pakistan now. From Karachi to Bombay, and Bombay they shipped us to Fremantle, Australia and then back to Bombay. We loaded manganese ore and came back through the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and up the Red Sea and Suez Canal, back through the Mediterranean and back to the States. And that was the end of that voyage which lasted about eight months.

Michael Willie:

And you've got to be ready to get off the ship for a while, right?

James Stancil:

Yeah. We were in India and couldn't even eat any fruit or anything, couldn't get good food. We had a good steward on board, he had been a head chef at a big hotel in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and he knew all kinds of ways to fix Spam, dehydrated potatoes, powdered split pea soup. Everything was, you know, the Army rations that we got we were having to eat, and that's what we had for Christmas dinner. Anyway, we got by on it. And I got back, and then I got a ring, and we were engaged. So I made another voyage.

Michael Willie:

How long -- how long a leave do you get? I mean, how long do you get --

James Stancil:

Your leave was figured on the length of the voyage. I figured everybody's leave and gave them the leave. I had to make out a leave slip for every man on board and send it to the -- to the Draft Board. That's something else, see. If we overextended our leave, earned leave, the Draft could draft you again. Even though you had been going to sea for years, they'd draft you. We had a third engineer who got drafted while he was over in Persia. They sent him his notice. He didn't laugh, you know. But each man, if you were gone -- you got so many days leave for every week you were at sea or for the length of the voyage rather. And sometimes you'd get as much as 30 days. Well, I got home, and I had quite a bit of leave coming, and so one reason was they started taking the ship and -- no, that was when I was assigned to the Willard they did that. Anyway, that's another story. I came home, we got engaged, and then I made another voyage.

Michael Willie:

Now, you guys aren't paid during leave, right?

James Stancil:

What now?

Michael Willie:

You guys aren't paid while you were on leave, right?

James Stancil:

No. When you're paid off the ship, you were -- you didn't draw a penny until you signed back on another ship or was on the port payroll. If you were on board the ship, while it was in port, we made up what we called the port payroll, it wasn't a voyage payroll, and paid them every week. But if you were on leave, you didn't get any pay. You didn't get any consideration on the trains like they had -- they'd give the Armed Forces furlough rates on these trains. They wouldn't give us the furlough rates. It was a 24-hour trip from New York to Chattanooga then on a train. And things like that.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now you come home, you get engaged, and then you head back out. This is --

James Stancil:

Yeah, went back to sea.

Michael Willie:

Where did you go this time?

James Stancil:

Well, I went back to the Mediterranean, Middle East again, went to Italy. We went up into the Adriatic Sea when it was the most mined spot on the face of the earth they claimed. We got in the middle of a mine field that took a British minesweeper four hours to clear a path for us to get to dock in Trieste. Trieste is right up at the point between Yugoslavia and Italy. And that's where we were at. Went into there and back to Naples, Italy and Algiers. I don't know, just ports in the Middle East there.

Michael Willie:

Now, you said that at that time they were saying some bad -- they were saying like Walter Winchell was saying bad things about the Merchant Marines. Like what?

James Stancil:

Well, the invasion of Italy, the original invasion of Italy, there was a -- Bari, Italy. B-a-r-i I think is the way they spell it. There were quite a few merchant ships in there, Navy ships too, and the Germans really hit them hard with bombing it. And every man, woman and -- every man and child on the ship was unloading as fast as they could to get out of there. But Winchell put out the story, and ole Westbrook Pegler did it, that the Merchant Marine refused to unload the ships while they were in Bari under attack without overtime. Now, does it make any sense to you or anybody else that you're being bombed and strafed and shot at that the quicker you get unloaded, the quicker you can get the heck out of there? It don't make any sense. And that's been made out a lie, but they never did apologize for it on the air. The general or the military officer in charge of Bari at the time refuted that vehemently and praised the merchant seamen for the job they did at unloading and assisting in getting unloaded supplies ashore there. MacArthur praised them in the Pacific and Admiral King. We got all sorts of laudatory remarks from the military on our service. They didn't fight the war without us. They couldn't, didn't have any supplies without us. In one or two instances MacArthur ordered them off the ship into the foxhole alongside the soldiers when we were being bombed with the Kamikazi planes. But that's another story. I wasn't over there in that. I was mainly in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Indian Ocean, Adriatic Sea, Red Sea, North and South Atlantic, the Baltic.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, when you come back off of this next tour after the Middle East then, you come back from there, and is it -- what is this, late '43, mid '43?

James Stancil:

Late '43. Right about Christmastime I guess I got some leave to come home and/or right about the first of the year it was, somewhere the first of the year '44, and we had already -- the wife and I had set our date January the 16th. That's the same date this friend of mine and her cousin were married on a year before. So I had the leave time to come. But now the War Shipping Administration and the Maritime Service ordered me after my leave, I had a 30-day leave coming and I got married, ordered me to go to Pharmacist Hospital Corps Training School at Sheepshead Bay, New York, before any more voyages. So I got married, went to Sheepshead Bay, got me an apartment there, and the wife came up there, and we spent our honeymoon while I was in pharmacist training at Sheepshead Bay. I was there until I think it was in April or May, may have been last of April.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So are you living on the economy then, paying your rent? I mean, are you given an allotment for that?

James Stancil:

They gave us a subsistance pay they called it, enough to barely pay the room rent. It wasn't enough. And we couldn't live on base. The officers couldn't live on base. We had to live off base. And those people up and down through there were gouging us on the rent. The old apartment we had, the plaster was falling off the walls and the furniture was something you wouldn't throw in the junkyard. But anyway, it's the best we could do. We wanted to be together, so...

Michael Willie:

Why did you have to get pharmacist training?

James Stancil:

After the war started -- Prior to World War II generally the third mate did any kind of first aid they needed, but that was in peacetime when first aid was generally all they needed. They found out we needed a corpsman on board as much as the Navy did in many instances. The skipper and the first mate -- third mate couldn't do it all. So they made me go -- What they threw at us, one doctor told me, he said, It took me ten years to learn all that. They just threw it at us and what we got, okay, gave us manuals to go by. I operated on a man's hand one time going to England and removed three joints off -- one off each finger, but I had a manual there, step by step how to do it. But anyway, we had to go.

Michael Willie:

So how long do you have to get all this training?

James Stancil:

Sir?

Michael Willie:

How long do you have? How much time do you have to get all that? You said that the guy told you it took him ten years. How long did you get? Six months? Three months? How long did it take you to get the training?

James Stancil:

Oh, we were there for three months.

Michael Willie:

Three months?

James Stancil:

Uh-huh. Then the wife had to come home, I had to go to sea. And this is in early '43 -- '44.

Michael Willie:

'44. All right. This next time you go to sea, is this when you're talking about?

James Stancil:

Yes. I was on a ship called the Frederic Remington named after the famous western artist. Our skipper was a 26-year-old man, but he had been to school ships and already been going to sea for years and had been trained. He was Jewish by faith and a very nice fellow, his name was Max Rand. We went into the English Channel and hugged the Cliffs of Dover as close as you could, reach out and touch them nearly. The Germans had a coast artillery gun over there that could shoot 20 miles or more, and they were knocking ships off going through the British Channel, English Channel, that way. One of those shells go over, sounds like you were under a railroad trestle and a train going over your head. Went out of there and then we went into England, and they shifted us from England then to Antwerp, Belgium. Prior to that a voyage -- no, maybe that voyage it was. We went in from England into Le Havre, France when they surrendered. They gave the Germans 48 hours to evacuate Le Havre or surrender, and they didn't do it. We had them surrounded, the Army did, so they bombed them 48 hours around the clock. The only two buildings left standing was a cathedral and the university. We unloaded on docks there in Le Havre because they had to go down the streets with bulldozers to clear it. After that we went into Antwerp, Belgium, then the Battle of the Bulge. That's when they tried to get me in the Navy. They came aboard one morning, and they were bringing back wounded from the front, quite a bit of them, and one morning a lieutenant commander came aboard from the Navy, came into my -- they brought him into my cabin. He said, Are you the purser? I said, Yes. Are you a hospital corpsman? Yes. He says, Grab your gear. You're in the Navy now. I said, Oh, hold on, but I'm not. He says, Why, what makes you say that? Didn't you sign up for the duration of six months in the Navy when you joined the Maritime Service? I said, No, sir. I signed up for two years, and I just got a letter from my mother with a discharge from the 8th Naval District in New Orleans which you've got a record of there and, I says, I'm not in the Navy anymore. They have no jurisdiction over me. Well, he said, By the time you prove that, this emergency will be over. I said, Well, what emergency? He said, They're needing all the corpsmen they can get in the hospitals over here. I said, Why didn't you say? I don't mind going over there and helping all I can, but you've got to understand one thing, when this ship leaves port, I leave with it, and I'm not under no Navy command. This is volunteer on my part if my skipper allows it. So that's what I did. I went over and worked in the hospital until the ship got --

Michael Willie:

Are you getting paid during this time?

James Stancil:

Well, we were overseas then. Yeah, our pay was going on.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

James Stancil:

In fact, we were getting 100 percent bonus in that area. We got bonuses. The oceans was broken down. I had a map of different oceans, different areas of different oceans. If you're in a certain area, you might get a 10 percent bonus for that day or week or however long in there or you might get a 30 or 50 or 75. 100 percent bonus when you was in a combat zone. In other words, double your pay. Now, there's another big controversy that came up when the war was over, one reason we weren't included in the GI Bill. They thought it said we draw so much more than the Armed Forces. Well, the congressional record, which I have a copy of at home, shows that rating for rating over a period of one year, we made less money than the Navy did because of no pay on leave or nothing like that.

Michael Willie:

Right.

James Stancil:

But anyway, that's besides the point. We went into Antwerp. Going into Antwerp we had a Dutchman on board, he was an able-bodied seaman, never will forget his name, it was Hank Remyn, R-e-m-y-n. And Hank asked me if he could go ashore with the pilot bringing us up to Antwerp up the Scheldt River, like New Orleans is to the Mississippi for instance. It's a big seaport though, big port, and most of the supplies at that time was going into the Allies was going in there. They could handle 200 ships at a time in Antwerp.

Michael Willie:

Is this after the Bulge then, after the Battle of the Bulge, or is it still going on?

James Stancil:

Well, we had charge of Antwerp during the Battle of the Bulge. That was why the Bulge -- Antwerp was the cause of the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans wanted to capture Antwerp and stop all those supplies coming into the Allies. They got within 9 miles of the mouth of the Scheldt River, and we couldn't get out of Antwerp for several days because they could shell you, ships coming in and going out. But Hank wanted to go ashore with the pilot, said his parents was there, lived in Flushing. That's an area between Holland and Belgium. Lowlands. One of the -- the Germans busted the dikes and flooded that area. So I got permission for him to go ashore, and he went ashore to hunt for his father and mother, and he found them. Over there they build their houses, the first floor underneath is a stable, keep their livestock in it, cows and what have you, live overhead. And he found his father and mother had one blanket, and his mother had pneumonia. They were in their 80s. He came back to the ship distressful, he didn't know what to do. I got ahold of provost marshal, and he sent an Army launch out there to get them and bring them back to the hospital and put them in the hospital. So Hank was ever so thankful for that, he made me a sheath knife out of a German bayonet. Well, we get back from that voyage and get back to the States, paid off the ship. I came home, went back, got another ship.

Michael Willie:

Now, is your wife up in -- is she at home now?

James Stancil:

No, she came home -- when I left, got through training at Sheepshead, she came home, and she's at home all this time. So I came home after that voyage, and I wrote her when we were in Antwerp that the war couldn't last much longer. I said there's so much ammunition, there's so much going to the front, bumper to bumper, truckload after truckload of supplies headed to the front, I says there ain't no way the Germans could ever withstand this all. I wrote her a letter to that effect. Well, I got back, went home, got another ship, went back, V-E Day was declared, this is on up into '45, August, I was in the British -- I made other trips, but this I want to tell about Hank Remyn. But when I signed on the ship, here comes Hank to sign on. We wanted an able-bodied seaman, they signed him on. He had been on the other ship with me on the other voyage. So he signed on as an able-bodied seaman. We were signing on aliens then as working aliens after the Allies. He was at sea when the Dutch were overrun by the Germans. So Hank signed on. We got back out to sea, we couldn't get a boatswain's mate. Union halls or nobody had a boatswain's mate for hire at that time. We had to sail, sail without a boatswain's mate. The chief mate came to me and said, What am I going to do? He says, I need a boatswain's mate. I don't know who's capable of being a boatswain. Now, a boatswain took orders from the chief mate for the deck crew, and he was in charge of working the deck crew. In other words, the boss during the day, working on deck. So I told him, I says, You've got a darned good seaman down there, one of the best seaman I've ever seen, that Dutchman down there. I said, He's a good seaman. How do you know? I said, I was on the last voyage with him. So he promoted -- After we got past the 3-mile limit, you can promote a man. So he promoted him to boatswain and made him a boatswain. Well, lo and behold we were nearly through the -- well, we were through the English Channel, barely got through it, we're headed to the First of Forth in Scotland, and they wired us to turn around and go back into Rotterdam, Holland. I've got the paper clipping, newspaper clipping at home. We were the first Allied ship in five years in Rotterdam, right after V-E Day. Now, one of the things they had old Gehring, you know, war criminal charges, is that he bombed 40 square blocks out of the city of Rotterdam, big as Atlanta, Georgia down there, out of the middle of that city after they had surrendered. Well, Hank, that was his home port. And he says, Can I go ashore with the pilot? I said, I have to get permission from the skipper. Well, he says, My wife and daughter, my daughter was only a year old last time I saw her, I ain't seen her in five years. Well, the skipper let him go ashore. He had to report back every morning at 8:00 in the morning because we don't know when the ship's going to sail. Well, he found his daughter and his wife in a little town outside of Rotterdam called Ekrans, E-k-r-a-n-s I believe is the way you spell it. I know Decatur Gin had a distillery there. He found them though, and he came back aboard the ship and got -- I was in charge of the ship's slop chest or ship store they called it, PX or whatever, and what he could get for his wife and daughter which wasn't much. Most everything I had was for men. And I says, Now, Hank, you can pay off here. You're a Dutch national. You don't have to return to the States. According to the Articles of War, you can pay off here and be with your family. Unh-unh, he says, I've got two more years on American ships and I can become a citizen, and he says, I go back and forth from here to Holland as an American and bring them back the things they need. There's nothing here for me. So that was good thinking I thought. I thought I'd tell the human interest. Incidentally, when we came into Rotterdam, the most pitiful sight I've ever seen. We pull in alongside the dock, there were dozens, I guess hundreds of people, Dutch people down there, first Allied ship in five years now, we were -- the AP picked it up and everything, the new Free Press here had a story about it the next day in the paper, the wife cut it out. She knew where I was at. The SS Robert H. Harrison, first Allied ship in five years in Rotterdam, and she cut that out. She knew where I was at. But the little children was lined up there and their bellies bloated, starved to death, nothing, and our seamen were throwing bananas or candy bars or apples or whatever, something to eat down there to them, and they'd just look at it and didn't know what it was. Their parents had to tell them that it was good to eat. The kids had never seen nothing like that. And it was pitiful. They were starving to death. We had 10,000 tons of flour on board that voyage, and that's why they shifted us into Rotterdam. They needed that bread bad. That's the first voyage I made during the whole war that did not have munitions on board.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now at this time, V-E Day, is the war still going on in Japan?

James Stancil:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

Okay, so is that your thought, that that's probably where you guys are headed after that?

James Stancil:

No. I still made voyages right on up until December of '45, right close to January. I went back to Europe on these voyages hauling supplies and things back there, mostly the Mediterranean. Went into Naples, Italy, I made three voyages. All together I made five voyages to England, touched England five different voyages. I was in Naples, Italy, two or three times. And the Mediterranean. Hauling supplies, going in to occupation troops needed supplies right on over there.

Michael Willie:

Now, what is your commitment? How long do you actually have to stay in the service or stay in the Merchant Marine?

James Stancil:

We had to stay for the duration of the war, and now if you signed on Naval Reserve -- Now my brothers, when they went into the Merchant Marine, they had to sign on Naval Reserve for the duration of the war plus six months. That was the same as the draft was, the duration plus six months. But in the Merchant Marine there's some of us started getting out after V-E Day. I stayed in until be my last voyage we wound up in December of '45, '46, maybe January or February of '46, I was discharged in June. I was already home, but I got my discharge in June from the Maritime Service.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, when did you realize now after you got out -- I rush to this just because we only have a couple of minutes left. When did you realize that you weren't going to get the benefits? When did you realize that you weren't getting any benefits and what a detriment it was being in the Merchant Marine because you weren't getting any --

James Stancil:

We all were under the impression at that time that we were covered by the GI Bill of Rights, but not so. I can name the organization that fought it and some of the chicken senators up there that voted -- didn't include us in the GI Bill of Rights because they thought they'd lose some votes from the organization that fought it. But according to congressional record we did not make more money, and according to the records we lost more men killed than any branch of the service percentagewise. We lost 1 out of 27 killed, not counting those over 6,000 wounded and something like 600 or 700 prisoners of war and then the missing. You've got a list there. It shows you what each state lost, our losses showing each state broken down. But we didn't realize that we were not under the GI Bill until Maud kicked us in the face, so to speak. [Interview concluded]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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