Sunday, September 28, 2008

They tried to bury this Memorial

My grandmother Edith's first cousin Clarence Hudson Lundy was born in 1898 and joined the US Merchant Marines when he was 21 years old. He was over 40 when WWII started but served aboard several Liberty ships that took supplies to the troops in Europe.

On August 19, 1943 he was the Master of the Liberty ship, SS J. Pinckney Henderson when it collided with a Panamanian tanker, the J. H. Senior. J. Pinckney Henderson (1808-1858) was the first governor of Texas and the ship bearing his name was on it's maiden voyage.

Liberty Ship convoys were escorted by US warships and took northern routes across the Atlantic trying to reduce the threat of German U-boats. It was not uncommon for them to encounter bad weather or icebergs on this route. This convoy, number HX-252 had been in heavy fog for three days when the collision occurred off the coast of Nova Scotia.

From the US Navy records: "While steaming in convoy (Convoy number HX-252) and carrying a volatile cargo she collided with the tanker J.H. Senior which was carrying high octane aviation gas on August 19, 1943 when off Newfoundland (lat. 44 12' N, Long 53 58' W). Both ships were immediately drenched in aviation gas and became blazing infernos, the flames spreading so rapidly that there were only nine survivors between them. The Liberty ship was towed to Sydney, Nova Scotia where she arrived on August 31 and was beached. She continued to burn for three more weeks until nothing was left but a gutted hull. Later she was refloated and towed to Halifax, then on January 14, 1944 she was towed to New York where she was declared a constructive total loss. In July of 1944 she was scrapped in Philadelphia. Sixty-one men were lost on the Liberty ship and only three survived. "

"Pinckney Henderson (42): There were only three survivors from this ship. The Boatswain was in his cabin and felt a collision. He stated that it was very foggy, and that the ship which they rammed caught fire. He was very definite that his ship was not torpedoed.

An Ordinary Seaman was on lookout duty at the port midship gun and stated that he saw a blue light on the port side and reported it to the Mate. When back at his gun he saw that collision with another ship which was crossing the bows from port to starboard was unavoidable. This other ship was rammed starboard side "between bow and bridge". Henderson caught on fire almost at once - very probably electrical as this survivor stated he saw "blue flames" in the officers' quarters. This Ordinary Seaman and the Boatswain remained on the stern of the ship for almost two and a half days.

The only other survivor was the Carpenter, and Indian named Albert Cericeros. He stated that he heard an explosion which he believed to be a torpedo "in No. 3 Mess between midships and stern". The ship caught fire and he went over the side with life-jacket on, being picked up about six hours later. He further states that whilst in the water - he does not remember when - he found himself drifting towards a fully surfaced submarine. He saw one gun on deck and six or seven members of the crew, but does not remember seeing any number on the conning tower. He then drifted away from it. This witness was torpedoed in the Caribbean in March, 1943, in Tulsa which was subsequently beached."

In September 1943, the bodies of the men recovered from collision were buried in a mass grave in Harwood Hill Cemetery in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Some of the Canadian sailors who recovered the bodies from the burning ships were also the burial party.

A 800 lb granite marker in the shape of a Cross was erected that read: "U. S. Liberty Ship J.P. Henderson, September 3, 1943. Here lie the remains of officers and crew members, naval and merchant, who lost their lives while serving their country. All members buried with full naval honors."

In 1949 the remains of the Merchant Marines and sailors were returned to the US and buried in a mass grave at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.

In the 1960's Canada offered the original marker to the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. They had plans to erect it near the waterfront but before it could be installed a new Academy superintendent came along and decided he didn't like it. The memorial was sent to storage in a government warehouse. Somehow it was later buried on the grounds of the Academy.

Forty years later on May 23, 2003 a bulldozer working to widen a road uncovered the marker. It has now, 60 years later been erected on the campus in memory of the men who lost their life.

In May 1951 The US Government and Panama Transport, who owned the tanker, paid claims under the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920 to the next of kin. A payment of $55,000 was paid to Clarence Lundy's wife and children. No fault was placed against either vessel.

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