Early Life

Merchant Marine Training

First Convoy

D-Day and Enemy Torpedo Attack

Merchant Marine Academy

Reflections

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James Melvin Crane was born in Conehatta, Mississippi in Newton County. At 15 pounds, he was the largest baby boy in the county. His middle name came from his doctor’s name. There were seven siblings with Crane being in the middle. It was a farming town with limited courses for education available. He attended junior college in Mississippi on a basketball scholarship. He heard about Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 while he was attending Southeastern College in Hammond, Louisiana. He had been awarded a basketball scholarship for that college. He was studying with a friend with the radio on when he heard about the attack. There was consternation and great concern among the young men. Some left for New Orleans the next morning to sign up for duty. The athletic department had very few capable athletes left. Crane was one of them. He received his BA degree from Southeastern.

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James Crane got into the Merchant Marine because Roosevelt [Annotator’s Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act in 1936] created the service to carry supplies to war zones. The Academy was located on Long Island in New York [Annotator’s Note: Kings Point, New York is home of the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island]. There was basic training at Pass Christian, Mississippi. That was where Crane was assigned. There was also a location for basic in California. Pass Christian was hot and humid. There was an amusing situation with the Yankee boys that came down to Mississippi for training. Another Southern boy gave Crane some mosquito dope to prevent insect bites. Crane told the Northerners that it just took will power to avoid the bugs. Crane would cut a Texas boy into the joke. They shared their secret for several days. [Annotator’s Note: Crane laughs at the memory.] Basic training was very basic. They learned how to handle life boats and small motor vessels assigned to Pass Christian. There was KP [Annotator’s Note: kitchen police or kitchen patrol] duty to remind them where they came from. After passing six months of basic, there was six months afloat. It was good training, particularly since it was in his home state. He enjoyed that. The office was in New Orleans. Assignments to ships were made there. He was assigned to a new Liberty ship coming out of Charleston, South Carolina. He checked out the ship’s equipment before taking her out. The skipper was a tough, but good, man called out of retirement. His name was Captain Anderson. He told Crane that if he did not mind hard work, he would make an officer out of him. Crane liked him. The ship he would serve on was a Lykes Brothers’ ship out of New Orleans. The company no longer operates out of New Orleans. The ship was named SS John A. Treutlen. It was named after a former governor of Georgia. The captain found out Crane did not mind working so he took him into offices in New York to see what was being planned for the convoys. New York was where his first convoy destined for Glasgow, Scotland was being formed.

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James Crane experienced a great change in the Merchant Marine. He was concerned about making the first convoy, but he was with many other men who were anxious to serve. The Nazis were sinking the slow Liberty ships. The merchant ship only made about 12 knots, about 12 miles per hour. The convoy speed was maintained to assure the slow ships were not left behind. The ships were protected by one aircraft carrier, and corvettes and destroyers. The airplanes barely managed to make it off the short deck. One submarine threatened the convoy, but it was never found. Crane’s blood pressure was elevated as a result of the encounter. There were many other ships at Glasgow when the ship reached there. The harbor was protected from Nazi attack because of its remote location and the cover provided by British Spitfire aircraft. Glasgow became the staging area for Crane and the other merchant ships. Crane was a cadet onboard the ship. He was to be assigned to two hours of duty per day. He would actually work from eight to five every day en route to New York. Since Crane made no complaints about the extra work, the captain took note and told him to put up his paint brush. Crane would not have to work extra hours in the future. From that point, he would be mentored by the officers on the ship. That provided the best education. He learned everything from knot tying to wheel watches every two hours. He worked with the navigators checking the stars. He learned a lot of things that were never explained in the text books. The Second Officer, Clarence Sharp, was the navigating officer on the ship. He taught Crane much about the discipline of navigation. They became fast friends and the relationship extended beyond the end of the war. Although it was a good learning experience, there was considerable apprehension about being in the war zone.

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James Crane was waiting for D-Day in the war zone. They knew it was coming but did not know when. They had departed New York in April [Annotator’s Note: April 1944] in a convoy bound for Glasgow. It took about a week to cross the Atlantic. They waited in Glasgow for the activities in June. Just before the invasion started, Eisenhower delayed the assault. Crane’s ship [Annotator's Note: the SS John A. Treutlen] moved from Glasgow to Wales with its cargo of war supplies. The morning of the invasion, the skies were darkened with all types of airplanes. Gliders were being pulled by transport aircraft. The plan began with Allied warships destroying the coastal defenses. Afterward, the Seabees [Annotator’s Note: members of naval construction battalions] would set up artificial harbors for the cargo ships to dock and unload the supplies. The morning the ship pulled out, Crane and the crew were glad that the time had finally come. Minesweepers had cleared a path in the English Channel. The ship followed the markers. A plane dropped a flare that indicated that a submarine was beneath him. The ship’s lookout came running shouting that a torpedo was spotted. Five ships were hit. Crane’s ship was struck in the stern and the propeller was disabled. That was somewhat of a lucky thing for him that he had just been elevated to acting Third Officer. Crane had been a midshipman, but was elevated to acting Third Officer when the Chief Officer of his ship had to rotate to command another ship. That ship’s captain went berserk. Everyone on Crane’s ship ratcheted up a step as a result of the move. As acting Third Officer, he was removed from assistant gun captain of the aft 5 inch gun mount and moved to the bridge with the skipper. The enemy torpedo hit in the area of the mount and most of the casualties were there. The man who took Crane’s place at the gun was severely injured. Crane helped his replacement into the lifeboat. Canadian corvettes came by to offload the dead and wounded from the stricken ship. The ship had valuable supplies on it. The captain asked for volunteers to help save the ship and return her to port. Crane was part of the salvage crew that remained with the ship and brought her to Southampton. It is a vivid memory to Crane. In port, the buzz bombs [Annotator’s Note: German V1 rocket bomb] were also unforgettable with the massive destruction caused by them. The harbor lights would be lit so that gunners could attempt to shoot them down. The crew stayed for a few days at the port and had R&R [Annotator’s Note: rest and recuperation or leave time] in London and Glasgow. Then they sailed on a troop ship back to the United States. The ship was the SS Argentina. As the ship passed the Statue of Liberty, there were grown men who were crying. It was good to be home. The men were given about three weeks of R&R upon their return. Crane’s ship en route to Normandy was the SS John A. Treutlen. It had erroneously been reported as sunk with all hands aboard. When Crane reached home, he found out that his brother, who was a bomber pilot, was reported missing in action over the Ploesti oilfields. For a few weeks, Crane’s parents thought both their sons had been killed in the war. When his R&R was over, Crane boarded another ship to fill out his six month requirement at sea. He then went to the Academy [Annotator’s Note: the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York] and then the war was over. The Treutlen seemed to have made it halfway to its Normandy destination when it was hit by the torpedo. A Dutch tug, the Zyder Dee, towed them to Southampton. It was a slow and long tow against the currents. The ship was down in the water and the men were anxious to reach port. The cargo of gasoline and other valuable war supplies was ultimately saved. Crane was about 24 years old at the time. In the midst of the enemy attack, the crew responded in accordance with their training and experience. One individual who had been sunk previously got excited, but most of the crew stayed at their post according to training. The men carried out their duties as they had been taught. The wounded ship was eventually scrapped along with many other ships. The supplies were removed first. The fate of the attacking submarine could not be determined because the crew was too busy reacting to the damage. The force of the explosion of the torpedo seemed to lift the ship and slam it down. It was scary after Crane had a chance to think about it. He was too busy at the time to have fear. He did pray for the injured and dead men as well as for their families. He also thanked the Lord that he had escaped injury. Crane was the only man in his section that got a star on his service ribbon in recognition of the action he went through. Others would ask him about it as a result. Crane’s family had been notified of the mistake made in the report of the Treutlen loss with all hands. His sister worked for Congressman Brooks [Annotator’s Note: Lawrence Brooks Hays] of Arkansas. She was the first family member he saw. They met in Washington and she caught him up on the family status. It was good to get home.

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James Crane’s brother was taken prisoner by the Germans [Annotator’s Note: after being shot down over the Ploesti oilfields as a bomber pilot]. His brother’s plane was damaged. When he tried to get it to climb, it would not gain altitude. He gave the order for his men to jump over what they thought was friendly territory. The men landed on ground occupied by the Germans. Crane’s brother remained in captivity until the end of the war. Meanwhile, after returning home following his ship being saved near Normandy, Crane took another ship to sea prior to attending the Academy [Annotator’s Note: the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York]. Crane made the September start for the class of 1946. Prior to entry, Crane had been exposed to quite a bit of what he would study at Kings Point. It made better sense to him following his time at sea. The end of the war came while he was at the Academy on Long Island. Everyone was looking forward to that day. The entire Academy was granted liberty and went to New York. It was a great feeling that fighting in Europe was over. The war with Japan still loomed ahead. When the Japanese surrendered, it was great joy since fighting in both theaters was finished. Men were anxious to get back home while some wanted to continue their education. Crane did complete his education but he realized he had to settle down and start his family. He was discharged from the Merchant Marine after he sailed to Asia and Europe working for Lykes Brothers. He was glad he did that. It was good to travel the world especially in doing a job he liked and was paid for. He left the Merchant Marine in 1947 after seeing much of the world. He witnessed how the world had suffered extensive war damage. Manila and Corregidor were both heavily damaged. MacArthur had to slip away at night on a PT boat to escape. It was nice that he could make it back to the Philippines.

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James Crane would repeat his service in World War II if called upon. The country has been very good to him and his family. He is proud of his family. He owes a debt to the country. It is important to study the war to avoid the mistakes of the past. Museums such as The National WWII Museum are very important. The exhibits are well presented for the veterans and have brought good memories back to Crane. School children and the public should see the exhibits and the history. Future generations should know how it was important the Merchant Marine was in getting the supplies to the right place at the correct time. Roosevelt [Annotator’s Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt] set up the Academy to train those officers. With our industrial strength we managed to defeat our enemies. Education is very important. Crane chose to spend his career teaching elementary school students.

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