Monday, May 29, 2006

Remembering the Merchant Marine.

In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 1930s, the man my father looked for guidance in life while he was growing up was his uncle and my namesake, Martin Postii. Martin spent a few teenage years lumbering and mining, but at seventeen left the western Upper Peninsula to attend the Merchant Marine Academy. He spent his twenties and early thirties sailing on the boats of the Great Lakes. In the mid 1930s he finally joined the seagoing fleet, sailing with ships of the Sun Oil Co. from Venezuela to the eastern seaboard of the United States. My father looked forward to his uncle's letters, telling of his adventures on the sea and in the exotic ports of South America. He would also include some of his pay to help my father's mother and grandfather maintain their modest farm in depression-sticken upper Michigan. With the spread of war in Europe, Martin sailed from India to Murmansk as an ABS (Able Bodied Seaman) aboard the SS East Indian, owned by the Ford Motor Company.

In the fall of 1942, Martin set sail on what was to be his last voyage. After making port in India and South Africa, the East Indian made steam for Gilbraltar. On November 5, 1942, only three hundred miles west of Capetown, the East Indian was torpedoed and sunk by U-181, commanded by Kapitaenleutnant Wolfgang Lueth. A single torpedo hit was enough to sink the East Indian in a matter of minutes. One of the survivors wrote of seeing my great uncle, the "Finn from Upper Michigan", become tangled in the shrouds of the mainmast and pulled under with the sinking of the ship. Martin was one of twenty-three men who did not initially survive the sinking. Lueth surfaced the U-181, and hailed the fifty-one survivors, while some of the German crew filmed the events. He had regretted sinking such a fine ship, Lueth remarked and asked if her surviving crew needed provisions. His offer of help was refused. After directing them toward Capetown, Lueth wished the crew of the East Indian luck, and ordered the U-181 submerged and sailed off in search of more prey. Ultimately only three crewmembers of the East Indian survived to sail again.In the last several years our country has expressed its gratitude to the soldiers of World War II, as "The Greatest Generation" passes into memory. Nor should we forget the service and sacrifice of the brave men of the United States Merchant Marine.

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