My uncle, Kenneth William Maynard, was raised in Whatcom County and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps before he was 18, sending most of his earnings home to his mother to support the younger children. When he was able to join up, he left the CCC to sign up for the Merchant Marine.
While serving on the tanker SS China Arrow during World War II, they were carrying fuel for the East Coast on Feb. 5, 1942, when they were torpedoed off the Delaware Coast by a German submarine. Fuel tanks exploded and the crew of 37 was ordered to abandon ship.
My uncle, the radio operator, stayed with the ship’s master and sent out a distress call, warning others of the submarine. Although the regular communication equipment was destroyed, they remained on board long enough to piece together enough to send out the distress call, resulting in the crew being saved.
Shore stations fixed the ship’s position and the crew was rescued 56 hours after the attack.
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In 1943, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions. According to the medal citation, two torpedoes struck the tanker’s main tanks, throwing large quantities of the flammable cargo high into the air. The oil rained back upon the ship and ignited, turning the open space blown through the afterdeck into a blazing inferno.
Even though the submarine was preparing to shell the stricken ship, Maynard and the master stayed to rig an antenna and set up an emergency shortwave transmitter. After 45 minutes, they completed the radio rig and sent out a continual distress signal. Shore stations fixed the ship’s position by triangulation and the crew was rescued 56 hours after the attack.
After my uncle’s tour in the Merchant Marines, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he served for the duration of the war.
Jo Wallace Guthrie lives in Bellingham.