Source: VOICES Staff, Ross Rowlinson and Captain Dru DiMattia
Heroes of the U.S. Merchant Marine, William Balabanow, John Laughton, Charles Mills, George Worsham, and David Yoho represented the over 9,500 brave merchant mariners who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II by laying wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, 2023.
USA Warrior Stories producer and retired Merchant Mariner Ross Rowlinson was invited to Washington D.C. to participate in the festivities. With the help of the American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV), Ross was able to record some amazing interviews while in Washington D.C. in addition to previous interviews with living veterans.
These are their stories.
WWII Merchant Mariners Honored on Memorial Day 2023
David Yoho, a world-famous motivation speaker, served in the Engine Department during WWII, having trained at Sheepshead Bay. When the war ended (V-J Day), he was just shy of his 17th birthday. Dave is one of our youngest WWII Mariners at 95 years of age. He continues his relentless advocacy of our common cause gaining recognition for his Greatest Generation of Mariners. Dave created a motto, which is often echoed “Hell No We Won’t Go Away.” On May 18, 2022, Dave was presented his Congressional Gold Medal in the Statuary Hall of the Capitol building by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He presented the Speaker of the House, amongst other Congressional Representatives and Maritime Stakeholders, his magnificent acceptance speech of the collective Congressional Gold Medal. He was interviewed by PBS and Capital Concerts in preparation for this year’s Memorial Day Concert to take place on May 28, 2023.
Dave also joined the American Maritime Podcast in an engaging conversation with Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) in 2020 on the role of American maritime during WWII and the significance of the Jones Act for American security. Congressman Garamendi spearheaded the effort to give the heroic WWII Merchant Marine Veterans the Congressional Gold Medal in a bipartisan push.
Personal Stories from those who served
Ed “Big John” Laughton, now 101 years old, was serving as 2nd Officer on the S/S Hobbs Victory when it was attacked by kamikaze aircraft and sunk on April 6, 1945 off of Okinawa. He ended up in a lifeboat saving several of his shipmates. Unfortunately, 11 of his crew lost their lives.
George T. Worsham was born in May 1924 in Kentucky, as the eldest son of sharecroppers. He joined the U.S. Maritime Service in 1943 at the age of 18. He attended the Officers Training School St Petersburg, FL. Mr. Worsham’s first Ship, the S/S Theodore Dwight Weld, was torpedoed by U-Boat 238 on September 20, 1943, while in Convoy ON-202. He was one of only 37 survivors out of a crew of 70. After a month’s leave he returned to the Merchant Marine and served another 33 years. During WWII he sailed as an Able Seaman and Third Officer. After the war, he sailed as Master Mariner for multiple shipping companies.
The day after James Sciple graduated from Fort Myers High School, he joined the Merchant Mariners. Sciple chose to join the U.S. Merchant Marine because the aquatic aspect of the position appealed to him.
Upon graduating from City College in 1944, Jack Laub served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, where he was commissioned as Ensign Officer in Maritime Service, and was later discharged as a Lieutenant of Senior Grade. In October 1946, he served as a Staff Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard.
At age of 15 Pete Kurkimilis lied about his age and joined the U.S. Merchant Marine at the beginning of WWII. Pete’s first ship the EL ALMIRANTE deliverd supplies to the Russian Army in Murmansk Russia. Pete was also served aboard a troop transport at Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. Peter worked his way up to a Master’s Lic. and sailed as Master in the US Merchant Marine until he retired.
Thomas Cavallo was born in New Jersey in 1926 and joined the Merchant Marine when he was 17 after being rejected by the U.S. Navy for being partially color-blind.
George Koch enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1944 when he was 16 years old. Little did he know that barely a year of service would send him into the Arctic Ocean on route to the Soviet Union port of Murmansk in 1944, fighting off attacks from Nazi submarines, battleships, and planes, all while withstanding the freezing Arctic weather, part of a convoy to support America’s allies.
Walter Broll joined the U.S. Maritime Service in 1942 when he was 17 years old after being turned down by the Air Force. Walter is a survivor of the Bari, Italy Raid during World War II. It’s been called the “Second Pearl Harbor” but has been almost forgotten in the years since. At least 30 ship were in Bari’s harbor unloading their cargo of fuel and supplies when the Germans sprang a surprise air attack on Dec. 2, 1943. What was not known at the time and until days after the attack, one American ship was carrying a secret cargo of Mustard gas. There were more than 1,000 military and merchant marine casualties.
WWII Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial Unveiling Ceremony
In honor of National Maritime Day, May 22nd, USA Warrior Stories’ Ross Rowlinson spearheaded efforts in Vero Beach, Florida to create a long overdue memorial to the WWII U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans.
The City of Vero Beach unveiled the new WWII Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial in 2023 on their Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary. They also invited many local and visiting WWII veterans and Merchant Mariners to witness 100-year-old WWII Mariner Mr. Floyd York receive his copy of the Congressional Gold Medal from the local Congressional Representative Bill Posey’s office.
USA Warrior Stories Inc. is a Not-For-Profit organization designed to record, archive and share videos of Veteran stories online to help Veterans make a connection with one another and to help us all better understand their sacrifices for our freedom. USA Warrior Stories would like to hear from you if you have a Warrior Story that you would like to tell. Please contact us a (631) 819-0805 or [email protected].
The American Merchant Marine Veterans (AMMV) is a not-for-profit pro-American organization established to gain recognition for what the AMERICAN MERCHANT MARINE has accomplished for our country in war and peace. Our key purpose is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American flagged Merchant Marine and to assist the veterans of the American Merchant Marine and their families, and all veterans of the military of the United States and their families, by providing counseling to veterans, and their widows and orphans, to assist them in legal, financial, and emotional matters resulting in connection with service to our country, and to provide information regarding benefits and services available to them.