Kind friend Dale Lincoln returns with a great story about this time of year back in 1945. As Dale wrote to me:
"Early May each year my memory takes me back to the year 1945. Most of the times I send you a story I try to keep in tune with the season we are living in. I know that people in your family and some people that work at Skillin's remember May 1945 and the sinking of the USS EAGLE off Portland harbor."
Enjoy the quick tale:
Starting in the late 1940's and during the 1950's my friend Lee Corbett and I completed many adventures while hunting, fishing, and exploring in Perry, Maine. Lee's parents took us to many places out of town. Preparing for and completing our duties with the U.S. Military Services ended our youthful adventures. More than fifty years later my friend Lee is once again my next door neighbor. On April 18, 2009 Lee's wife was visiting out of town. It was fun for me and Elsie to invite Lee to our home to celebrate his 74th birthday. It was a conversation during mealtime that inspired me to write this article.
Lee's Dad was adventurous and I loved to listen to his stories. As a teenager Mr. Corbett had traveled West on a train to answer the call to help the Canadians with the wheat harvest in the Province of Saskatchewan. (Note: Before the USA entered World War I in 1917, Canada sent many troops to the War in Europe. Many young men from the States were employed by Canadian farmers that were desperate for manpower especially at harvest time.) Lee's Dad also became involved in several large construction projects:( Liberty Ships in South Portland: Limestone Air Base, and The Saint Lawrence Sea Way.) He was often away from home.
The summer of 1942 Lee and his mother went to visit Mr. Arthur R. Corbett where he was working a construction job near the Coast of Massachusetts. It was on that visit when his son Lee (Age 7) saw a burning ship that had been torpedoed by a German U-Boat.
During my six years while being employed as an engineer aboard Gulf Oil Corp. tankers several crew members, that had sailed merchant ships during World War II, told me about sailing through waters infested by German submarines. One engineer told me about making a voyage on a merchant ship in late 1942. On that trip from New York to Texas people on his ship never lost sight of a burning ship. During World War II many people along the East Coast of the United States must have seen ships burning after they were hit by a torpedo. I am surprised that Lee was the only person to tell me about seeing a burning ship off the Atlantic Coast of the United States. (During the years 1942 to 1945, from shore, did you ever see a burning ship?)
Nearing the end of the War in Europe the great menace of the German U-Boats was being brought under control by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. However, two of the last ships sunk by German U-boats happened off the coast of New England: Near noon on April 23, 1945 the USS EAGLE, PE-56 was torpedoed only a few miles off the coast of Portland, Maine. Forty nine of her sixty two crew members perished. Less than two weeks later, on May 5, 1945, the S.S. Black Point with a cargo of coal, was sunk by a German U-Boat off Point Judith, Rhode Island. The S.S. Black Point was the last U.S. Ship to be sunk by a German U-Boat during World War II. (The same U-Boat is credited for sinking both ships.)
Many people still remember early May of 1945. People ten,to twenty years older than myself know some good news was happening—The War in Europe was ending.---However, the News from The War in the Pacific was not all good. The U.S. Troops were having a tough time on the Island of Okinawa and many people were anticipating an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. In retrospect I realize my condition was very good at the time. My home was in a little house by a swamp in Perry, Maine. I had spent the war years there. My Mother, Father, Brother and Sister were in that home every night.
At school I talked about the War with my friends. The day we heard that the War in Europe had ended we sang patriotic songs for much of the morning. There was much happiness at my school. Spring had arrived early. In Downeast Maine April 1945 is one of the warmest months on record. The sap was high in the alder trees and the bark easily twisted off the wood. My friends and I, with our jack knives, made alder whistles and squirt guns during recesses and noon times. On good days boys grades five through eight were playing baseball in the field adjacent to the school. The girls in all grades jumped ropes and played hop-scotch. The warm spring weather added to people having “that good feeling.” My mother was singing one of her favorite songs: “I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time;-- a month earlier than usual. Most people in my area didn't panic when the weather was cooler on the evening of May 10, 1945,--- but big changes occurred over night. At daylight “the world” was white,-- with millions of apple blossoms in the slushy snow.