Eager to Join the Merchant Marines

Merchant Marine Life

Reflections of the War


Gregory Lawrence Nunnink was born in Kansas City [Annotator’s Note: Kansas City, Missouri] in 1927. He grew up with one older sister. At age nine, his family moved to Hawthorne, California so that his father, a contractor, could find more work during the Great Depression [Annotator's Note: The Great Depression was a global economic depression that lasted from 1929 through 1939 in the United States]. He attended public school in Hawthorne. He was not aware of the rising hostilities in Asia and Europe. He heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] over the radio. He and his family became concerned with the outbreak of war. He had family members that joined the service and sent them letters, and he also kept up with the news of the war. In 1944, Nunnink joined the Merchant Marine at the insistence of his mother who assumed it was safer than joining the Army. He trained with the Coast Guard at Catalina Island [Annotator’s Note: in California]. In addition to physical training, he learned to become a ship’s cook.


Gregory Lawrence Nunnink served aboard several ships sailing along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States as a Merchant Marine cook. He never thought of the threat of enemy attack because he was always busy at work. He boarded the SS Glenns Ferry in San Pedro, California and sailed into the Pacific. His ship hit a whale. The water all around was the color red. While crossing to the Philippines, the ship became stuck in a typhoon and ran aground on a reef. They abandoned ship, going ashore on a small atoll, and watched as the ship burst into flames. They waited three days on this atoll before a Unites States Navy ship arrived to rescue the stranded merchantmen. They were brought to Manila [Annotator’s Note: Manila, the Philippines] and then to Eniwetok [Annotator’s Note: Eniwetok, Marshall Islands] where they boarded the USS Hornet (CV-8) for transport back to the United States. He then received leave [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time] for about two weeks, so he went home and visited family. Nunnink heard about the Japanese surrender while he was in bootcamp. He remained in the Merchant Marine until 1947. He married and had eight boys and four girls.


Gregory Lawrence Nunnink’s most memorable experience of World War 2 was when his ship [Annotator’s Note: SS Glenns Ferry] sunk. He served because he wanted to do his part. The war changed his life by giving him a better life after the war. He enjoyed his service and thought it was a good experience. He does not think Americans remember World War 2. Nelson believes there should be institutions like the National WWII Museum [Annotator's Note: The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana], and that we should continue to teach World War 2 to future generations, so that kids are aware of worldly events. Nunnink was honored to receive the Congressional Gold Medal and to be recognized for his service as a Merchant Marine during World War 2 [Annotator’s Note: In 2020, the United States Congress approved the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act in recognition of the contribution of the Merchant Marine during World War 2].

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.