Interview with Eldon L. Gallear

From the interview with Eldon L. Gallear of Wasila, AK conducted by phone by Patience Rogge from the Fort Worden History Center on May 31, 2011. Mr. Gallear served in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II, attaining the rank of First  Assistant Engineer in 1945.  The following is an account of an experience that began when he boarded a ship in Galveston, TX:

“I went aboard and said to the gangplank watch guy, ’I work in the engine room.  I’ve got a fireman oil and water tender’s ticket to go to sea in those positions.’ He hustled me right down to the chief engineer who took me right down to the engine room and put me to firing right away.  The guy I relieved had been on duty so long he was bleary eyed.  Almost immediately we left Galveston.  We were going to pick up a load of bauxite and bring it back to America because they needed it for airplane construction.  This old ship had been built around 1920 for the Great Lakes trade.  She had a lot of weak spots in her.  They had taken out the water tight bulkheads by numbers three and four holds to make a boat carrier out of her, that weakened the whole ship tremendously.  After we had gone about 100 miles, just south of Cancun, a German submarine torpedoed us.  I was the only one watching the engine room and there was one hell of a lot of noise. It knocked me to the floor plates. I don’t know how long I lay there. The room was full of steam and all I could think of was getting the hell out of there.  I left the companion way, got up on deck and went out on deck.  There were two guys leaning over the bow rail speaking to someone in Portuguese.  I walked over and asked them what was going on.  They pointed to a life raft with two guys on it that was tethered right near the side of the ship.  They gave me to understand that the ship was going down fast, to climb over the rail and go into the water and these guys would pick me up.  One of them pointed to my side and said, ’Man, you’re hurt.’  That was the first time I realized that I was bleeding.  I started to climb over that boat rail and passed out.  Apparently those guys shoved me on over.  I kind of half remember being pulled onto that life raft. A bit later I came to and I remember a lot of yelling going on.  I passed out again and I don’t remember anything—I don’t remember how long I was on that life raft.  When I came to the next time I was looking at a pair of white silk stockings and I thought I must have gone to heaven, I couldn’t think of anything else.  A woman was sitting there, dressed in white.  I said, ‘Where am I?’ or ‘What’s this?’ or something.  She said, ‘Oh, thank goodness you’re alive.’ Then she paused and said,’ I’m not your nurse. I’m your guardian angel.’  Pretty soon a nurse did come in and I spoke to her.  I asked about this other nurse, and nobody knew about it.”

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