Liberty's War:
An Engineer's Memoir of the Merchant Marine

by Herman Melton

Herman Melton's <cite>Liberty's War</cite>

2017, Naval Institute Press, edited by Will Melton. 232pp. 6 x 9 inches. ISBN 978-1-59114-640-7, paperback.

Notes from the Cover

The Book

In the dark days of World War II, merchant mariners made heroic contributions to the eventual Allied victory while suffering tremendous casualties. Among these were the engineers who toiled deep in the bowels of their ships. In part, this was because enemy submarines typically targeted engine rooms to cripple the vessels, but also because these brave men remained at their stations aligning fire pumps, securing the boilers, and performing the tasks that would give the ship and crew a fighting chance for survival. After the war, engineering personnel rarely talked about their experiences, let alone wrote them down. These modest and self-effacing men, more comfortable in a world of turbines and pistons, seldom told their stories. Liberty's War sets out to explore the experiences of one such engineer, Herman Melton, from his days as a cadet at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy through his time as a third assistant engineer.

Melton's story is representative of the thousands of Merchant Marine engineers who served on board Liberty ships during the war. Like many young Americans,m he sought to do his part, and in 1942 he obtained an appointment to the newly-created U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York. As a cadet on board the Liberty ship SS Cornelius Harnett, Melton saw action against German U-boats and bombers as part of the 1943 Murmansk convoys. After graduating from the academy in 1944, he shipped out to the Pacific theater, surviving the sinking of his Liberty ship, the SS Antoine Saugrain, and its top-secret cargo. He also helped to salvage two damaged Liberty ships before sailing in the William Sharon back to San Francisco, displaying all the resourcefulness, intelligence, and grit that American came to expect of its merchant mariners.

In a 1992 ceremony at the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., Melton received a memorial medal from the russian goverment for his service on the Murmansk run. In the last years of his life, he sought to reconstruct and understand his wartime experiences, aided by his son Will. The result is this compelling and meticulously-researched personal account of World War II as seen by a young merchant marine engineering officer.

The Author and Editor

Herman Melton (1920–2013) was a World War II veteran of both the Murmansk and Pacific convoys. Will Melton, son of the author, retired in 2015 after forty years as a public relations officer and fund-raiser for schools, colleges, and scientific research organizations. His lifelong interest in military history was inspired by family trips as a boy to battlefields and history museums.

This website and its portal are hosted by Mitchells Publications, Chatham, Virginia.