CNHI News Service
Today marks 70 years since Allied troops landed in Normandy in 1944. D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history, an operation that began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe and led to the restoration of the French Republic — and ultimately — contributed to an Allied victory in World War II.
There were many factors that led to the Allied victory of World War II, one of which was the U.S. merchant marines.
A local World War II veteran who served as a merchant marine, began his time in the war after D-Day.
Curtis Shores, 87, a Cairo native and Thomasville resident most of his life, began training Jan. 9, 1945, as a U.S. merchant marine at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I wanted to get into some service,” said Shores, but at the time, he was too young to join.
Before that time, 17-year-olds were not allowed to be merchant marines, but since there was a shortage, a plea was sent out for more merchant marines — even those who were 17.
Merchant marines were considered civilians in service, serving under the Coast Guard.
He completed training on April 14, 1945, and set off to board a troop train in New York for Los Angeles, Calif. He was only 17 years old.
On May 23, 1945, in Los Angeles, Shores boarded the S.S. White Oak T2 tanker, which was owned by DeConnel Shipping Co. It was loaded with crude oil and fuel for submarines and carrier planes in the South Pacific, Mariana Island area. This would be the last voyage the S.S. White Oak made.
“One thing about the South Pacific was that it was beautiful and blue — and there was always a nice breeze. However, we had to keep watch on the floating mines and U-2 submarines, which were Japan’s way of trying to destroy the merchant ships. The Japanese thought if they cut supplies, they could win the war. If you can’t get supplies, you can’t fight,” Shores said.
For five and a half months, Shores was at sea. After three weeks into the trip, the quartermaster, the person who steered the ship, developed appendicitis. One of Shores’ most memorable and enjoyable times aboard the ship was when he was asked to be the quartermaster for the remainder of the trip.
He said, “I enjoyed steering the ship, except during a storm. It was hard to control then.”
Shores also remembered the ship having to be totally blacked-out at night. A blind could not be opened. Shoes were an issue for the crew, as well. They could only wear tennis shoes, because shoes that contained nails or any type of metal would spark when it came in contact with the metal of the ship.
“The sparks could be picked up from miles away,” he said.
On the return home, Shores and the other merchant marines came back thought the Panama Canal to Mobile, Ala., where they signed off the ship.
“We were then told the ship would be towed to the old ship cemetery and sold for scrap metal,” said Shores. The date of discharge was October 30, 1945.
Shores’ military experience did not stop there. He was inducted into the U.S. Army, a private first class, on Feb. 16, 1946, at Fort Benning in Columbus. He spent nine weeks at Fort McClellan, Ala., for training. After a 10-day leave, Shores reported back to Fort McClellan and was sent to C.P. Kilmer, N.J.
On May 31, 1946, he departed for Germany from New York Harbor on a troop ship.
By June 9, Shores arrived at Le Havre, France. He remembered being put on a troop train to Schwabisch Hall, Germany, and serving in the occupation forces.
“We were a police force for the civilian population, patrolling the Autobahn, the highway system that goes through Germany. We patrolled for speeders, black marketers and unsurrendered SS troopers. The German police had to work with us, and they couldn’t carry guns,” said Shores.
For 15 months, Shores served with the U.S. Army in Germany. Some of the places he stayed while in Germany include Schwabisch Hall, Ludwigsberg and Stutegart.
He said, “Ludwigsberg was the garden center of Germany. It was so beautiful that it was spared during World War II. The only sign that the war had been there was that the castle there had been shot up. It was spared because of its beauty.”
On Sept. 29, 1947, Shores was honorably discharged at CP Kilmer, N.J.
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.