I knew a lad who went to sea – a memoir
This collection of short stories is dedicated to my parents who, though very concerned, did not try to dissuade me from going to sea in wartime. The stories, all true, are also dedicated to my wife who tolerated my telling and retelling sea stories during many years.
One narrative herein records the profound influence of a great lady, Katherine Connell, the schoolteacher who ensured that a ship-happy lad would realize a dream.
In addition, this book is a tribute to the grease- and soot-encrusted old salts, who served in the black gang in U.S. Army Transport URUGUAY, none of whom was draft bait and all of whom voluntarily continued to ship out in merchant ships after the U.S. entry into World War II.
I knew some of those sons of Neptune as wee John Steinmann the Staff Chief Engineer who, per a rumor, rescued his wife and her piano by driving a pony cart within a mob of refugees when the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940; the grouchy Senior First Assistant Dickie Thompson, who years after the war displayed a hidden friendliness; Kitchen the humorous Chief Electrician who had survived a fire at sea when SS MORRO CASTLE burned in 1934; Snoose the Reefer Olson who made up his own lyrics for chanteys; and Adolf (Eddie the Rooski) Gabrunas a junior engineer, who survived a World War I torpedoing and with whom I maintained a friendship until his death more than three-decades after I signed off of URUGUAY.
That brave breed conveyed to me an appreciation of what life was like for merchant seamen in the days of riveted hulls, coal-burning boilers, steam reciprocating engines, bulkhead dynamos and Morgan Line strawberries.
Last but not least, this book is a memorial to the prelims I befriended during the start-up of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Cadet Midshipmen Joe DiCicco and Art Gradus, who both died at sea during 1942.
Louis D. Chirillo
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo