Soon we will all be gone so I relate these stories held deep in the depths of my inner mind, memories returning in the night to keep me awake.
As a radioman on the USS Wakefield AP21, once a proud luxury liner, the largest ever built by America, the SS Manhattan taken over by the US Coast Guard at the outset of WW2 to bring out British and American nationals from Singapore.
The ship hit by Japanese bombs and later in flames in the Atlantic was towed into the ship yard in Boston and there the empty hull was converted into a transport completely steel with armor of a warship carrying a crew of 800, transporting 6 to 8 thousand troops to the war zone in Europe and returning with thousands of wounded through dangerous waters without escorts as the ship speeding in zig zag paths patterns plied the oceans alone.
Now the story , I, a radioman when in port with the radio shut down was given other duties such as getting the orders from the COTP or tidying up the radio room but on this occasion we were transporting German prisoners captured when the garrison in Le Havre surrendered to the U.S.
My assignment, given a S.P. band on my arm and a baton to carry, was to guard the passage way where their commanding officer was held in a cabin with no doors but barbed wire strung across.
Each time I passed the open door the officer a Colonel uniformed in spotless attire including shiny boots, even as his troops were ragged and torn, asked me a question in English.
On orders not to converse with him I did not answer his questions, “the ships name, what port do we go to, where are you from?”
When he asked if I was from New York, I could not control myself. I stopped and said these exact words as close as I can recall, ” yes I am from Brooklyn and am a Jew, then in German I said,”ich bin ein Juden” “so why did you Nazis do this?” Even though at that time I did not know the full extent I knew they had done horrible things to the Jews. “If I was in there and you were out here what would you do to me?”
He looked at me in shock and proclaimed, I am not a Nazi, I am a soldier. My answer “You as an officer were quiet and did nothing so you are just as guilty “. He turned from me and sat on his bed never looking at me again as I passed.
This event is true with maybe a word or two short in my memory. I write this so maybe my children will read this as I never related this story as I should have. The moral of story, speak up if you see something wrong especially in the country you love.
Morris Alkes Malvern