“Liberty’s War: An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-1945,” by Herman E. Melton (edited by Will Melton), Naval Institute Press, 2017, 256 pages, $24.95
Battalions of books have been written about World War II, yet the experiences of merchant marine sailors remains underserved.
“Liberty’s War: An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-1945,” by Herman E. Melton (edited by Will Melton) helps fill the gap.
Written by the late Herman E. Melton, and brought to completion by his son Will, “Liberty’s War” recounts the elder Melton’s experiences as Merchant Marine Academy cadet and engineering officer aboard Liberty ships in World War II.
Herman Melton had an interesting war — if the old curse “may you live in interesting times” defines interesting. He sailed in North Atlantic convoys, made one round-trip on the Arctic Murmansk run, had one ship torpedoed and sunk by Japanese aircraft in the Pacific and spent months on Leyte repairing the engines of two cargo ships damaged by Japanese Kamikazes.
All his service was aboard Liberty ships, a ubiquitous, mass-produced cargo ship built in thousands as emergency measure to replace sunken shipping.
Herman Melton shows how, due to World War II, a kid from the Texas Panhandle ended up attending King’s Point Maritime Academy and spending the war at sea. Melton wrote these memoirs starting in the 1990s. While he captures the feelings of a scared youth in his early 20s he does so from the perspective of his life’s experience half a century later.
He not only tells what happened, he is able to place it in the context of the larger war. After he tells what he experienced, he circles back and tells the experiences of those who fought with him and against him. He tells the story of the Russian fighter pilots at Murmansk, the P-38 squadron which broke up a Japanese torpedo bomber attack against his ship in the Pacific. He also, when possible, learns what happened to those who attacked his ships.
He also tells of his personal life; the pranks he pulled, his friends, his wartime courtship and marriage.
The result is a story which is absolutely fascinating to read. “Liberty’s War” is worth reading on several levels: a memoir, an adventure, and underreported history.