What was and is a Merchant Marine and what's it got to do with USOs?

U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II

"I hold no other branch in higher esteem that the Merchant Marines,"
-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,"
-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

What the heck is an USO?

My father died when I was 12 years old. I never really got to ask him questions about his work and life.

Later in life when I would ask my my mom what my dad was and she said he was a Marine. BUT sometimes she would say he was in the Navy. And sometimes she would say he was in the Coast Guard. But I came to find out he really was a Captain in the Merchant Marine.

As a kid it was very confusing. I knew what the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard were but, "what the heck is a Merchant Marine?!" My mother always made him out to be a military hero. Turns out he really was.

Yup. He served as a Merchant Marine in World War 2. I'll never forget him telling the story with his war buddies about the time his crew called him out and told him there was an USO. Not an UFO but an USO, unidentified submerged object. He said it was a big ball of light that came up from under the water and flew to the side of the ship, they tried to throw a net on it and it flew into the sky.

I hope I did not loose you with the whole big foot/ufo mumbo jumbo! I swear this is not turning into an X-files episode. Unidentified objects coming from under the water, USOs are actually more common than UFOs. USO documented reports date back to atleast the year 1067 and including reports from Chrisopher Columbus' log book from 1492.

First Merchant Marine Flag: 1775

Dead Uncles' Advice


When my uncle was alive he adviced me to stay away from joining any military service especially the naval ones. The only career advice my parents gave me was to not be a musician. Apparently my other uncle, deceased at the time, was a very good trumpet player who failed at the game of life and they saw how hard he struggled to accomplish nothing. So what did I do...ta da...I became a musician.

Back to the Merchant Marine story. I couple of years ago I met a Merchant Mariner who was younger than I was and had the attitude of a punk. And not the good punk either. It made me want to research what a Merchant Marine really did and does.

1 in 26 mariners serving aboard merchant ships in World WW II died in the line of duty...

...suffering a greater percentage of war-related deaths than all other U.S. services. Casualties were kept secret during the War to keep information about their success from the enemy and to attract and keep mariners at sea.

The U.S. wartime merchant fleet. . . constituted one of the most significant contributions made by any nation to the eventual winning of the Second World War....

In the final assessment, the huge US merchant fleet... provided critical logistical support to the war effort
The Oxford Companion to WORLD WAR II

The merchant marine is collectively those commercial, non-naval ships that carry cargo or passengers or provide maritime services, and the civilian crewmen and officers who sail those ships.

During World War II the ships and men of the United States merchant marine transported across the oceans of the world the vast quantities of war materiel, supplies, equipment and troops needed to fight and win that war. The men of the U.S. merchant marine were civilian volunteers who nonetheless died proportionally in numbers that rivaled or exceeded any branch of the uniformed military. Like the U.S. Navy Armed Guard with whom they sailed, the unsung men of the U.S. merchant marine made possible the Allied victory in World War II.

One way to understand the Second World War is to appreciate the critical role of merchant shipping.

... the availability or non-availability of merchant shipping determined what the Allies could or could not do militarily.... when sinkings of Allied merchant vessels exceeded production, when slow turnarounds, convoy delays, roundabout routing, and long voyages taxed transport severely, or when the cross-Channel invasion planned for 1942 had to be postponed for many months for reasons which included insufficient shipping....

Had these ships not been produced, the war would have been in all likelihood prolonged many months, if not years. Some argue the Allies would have lost as there would not have existed the means to carry the personnel, supplies, and equipment needed by the combined Allies to defeat the Axis powers. [It took 7 to 15 tons of supplies to support one soldier for one year.]

The greatest sealift in history

The United States Merchant Marine provided the greatest sealift in history between the production army at home and the fighting forces scattered around the globe in World War II. The prewar total of 55,000 experienced mariners was increased to over 215,000 through U.S. Maritime Service training programs.

Merchant ships faced danger from submarines, mines, armed raiders and destroyers, aircraft, "kamikaze," and the elements. About 8,300 mariners were killed at sea, 12,000 wounded of whom at least 1,100 died from their wounds, and 663 men and women were taken prisoner. (Total killed estimated 9,300.) Some were blown to death, some incinerated, some drowned, some froze, and some starved. 66 died in prison camps or aboard Japanese ships while being transported to other camps. 31 ships vanished without a trace to a watery grave.

So in summary the US Merchant Marines were more than just waterway delivery truckers in the early World War Wars. They risked a lot more than they are given credit for. My respects go out to all the old school Merchant Mariners!

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Comments 7 comments

rmhoskinson profile image

rmhoskinson 6 years ago from Midwest USA

Interesting hub.

I've an uncle who was a Merchant Mariner during WWII. Once he completed his tour with the Merchant Marines, he joined the USAF and became a Fly Boy.

A very different time back then, Wasn't it.

HollywoodRasta profile image

HollywoodRasta 6 years ago from Hollywood Author

Your uncle's story is pretty cool! Thanks for commenting.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hiya, yeah I agree, they all did an amazing job back then. My mum was in the airforce and my dad in the army. My Uncle was a Navigator in the Airforce and died saving someones life when they got shot down. I would have loved to have met him. Great Hub. But what were the USO's ? cheers Nell

HollywoodRasta profile image

HollywoodRasta 6 years ago from Hollywood Author

Hi Nell I realized I made a typo. The Usos are unidentified submerged objects. They are said to be more common than the flying ones.

UFOs and USOs. Alot of people are not aware of the latter. I have never seen an USO craft but...I was snorkeling with a buddy years ago and we ran into what appeared to be a sea urchin and then a periscope-like tube came out of the top and it had an eye that started to look at us. NOW...the only reason I bring this up is because I have tried to find any information on sea urchins with eyes and have never found any...hence the unidentified submerged object ;0)

True Story!

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi again, the sea urchin thought, wow! that is a BIG sea creature, I aint never seen one of those before!!! Ha Ha sorry, could'nt resist!! cheers nell

HollywoodRasta profile image

HollywoodRasta 6 years ago from Hollywood Author

Cheerios Nell! yeah...if you happen to run into any information on a sea urchin with an eye please let me know. I think I saw one in a mythical creatures compendium somewhere on the internet...it was not huge...it was the size of a grapefruit.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Yeah, I'll take a look. cheers nell

I'll find the darn thing!!

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