Through the Eyes of a Cadet
As an 18-year-old young man, Frank B. Bradshaw Jr. from Memphis served in World War II as a sailor in the Merchant Marine from 1944 to 1946. During this time, he travelled the world, seeing the sights of Cuba, Australia, the U.K., Germany and more, but his initial enthusiasm for the great food and good company on board was slowly balanced by the harsher realities of life at sea.
Now, over seventy years since Bradshaw wrote his first letter, in the newly released book Forty-Five Letters from a World War II Sailor, his son Robert W. Bradshaw presents a collection of Frank’s letters home to his parents.
Frank missed his family most poignantly on Sunday mornings, a time when he would have attended Church with them. The monotony of long sea voyages preyed on him, and the need, as a cadet, to get on with both officers and crew was sometimes challenging.
“I got about a dozen letters today – feel better than any time since we left. Actually, getting mail is by far the greatest pleasure we have.”
It was a dangerous time in history when mariners died at a rate of one in 24, the highest rate of casualties of any service. From a cold-blooded slaughter in the Ukraine to coping with food shortages as a result of the captain’s illicit dealings, Frank shared the day-to-day happenings of the life of a sailor on a cargo ship through his letters.
“The captain is about the craziest loon I’ve ever seen. He’s radical and jumps up and down and beats his head when we get in a tight spot. On the trip from Galveston to France and from France to Aruba, he had a woman hid up in his room,” writes Frank. The captain was eventually found out and the woman removed by the Coast Guard, but the captain continued his errant ways, forcing the crew to take joint action despite his threats of revenge.
The book offers unique insights into the time and inter-relations between the U.S., the U.K and Germany at the time. “Just left Hamburg… For American cigarettes, you could get anything or practically any amount of money.
“Hamburg was hit the hardest of any city I’ve seen. In some places, there is not so much as a wall standing for miles,” he writes.
Yet, he saw another side to Germany too. “The talk in the States of this country starving is just politics and a scheme for some big business to make a big profit. The only thing that they are really short on is sugar and coffee… We have seen thousands of cattle and crops in the field. No one is dying of starvation or even going hungry. There’s just as many people that are dying in the States as over here.”
The book concludes with President Harry Truman’s thank-you letter:
To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Merchant Marine to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of the Nation. You undertook the most severe task – one which called for courage and fortitude. Because you demonstrated the resourcefulness and calm judgement necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further serving your country in peace.
Frank’s son Robert has published the letters out of respect for his father and as motivation for people to love God, love their neighbours and to love and educate themselves.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.