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Sailor saw sinking of the S.S. Sacketts Harbor

Bellingham resident Dan McGrew, third from the left, served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, including extended time aboard the tanker SS Sackett's Harbor.
Bellingham resident Dan McGrew, third from the left, served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, including extended time aboard the tanker SS Sackett's Harbor. FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

I joined the Merchant Marine on Oct. 4, 1943, at the age of 17.

I had my 18th birthday in Sydney, Australia, while aboard the tanker SS Sackett's Harbor. We had sailed from San Pedro, Calif., bound for Brisbane.

A submarine began pursuing us as we approached the east coast of Australia. We increased speed and passed through the south passage between Moreton Island and Russell Island. We were unable to make the turn to approach the Brisbane River and we ran aground in Moreton Bay, but the sub didn't follow.

The tanker's hull cracked, deck line to deck line, through No. 5 tank, losing its load of aviation fuel. We freed the ship on high tide, proceeded up river to Brisbane, discharged our cargo, and went south to Newcastle for repairs.

The shipyard welded the crack and we sailed to Sydney and then to Iran, where we loaded cargo and returned to Sydney.

I left the Sackett's Harbor on April 22, 1944, in San Pedro, but rejoined it on April 4, 1945, and sailed with a load of aviation fuel for the U.S. fleet.

In Leyte Harbor, Philippines, I found out that my older brother was anchored there and got a ride to his ship, the USS Achilles. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor and I had not seen him since early 1941.

The war ended while I was aboard the Sackett's Harbor. On March 1, 1946, the vessel broke in half off of Adak, Alaska. It broke at the No. 5 tank, the exact crack we had in Australia in 1943.

The forward half, with 10 men aboard, drifted away from the stern section. The radio was on the forward half and the men there managed to get it working and called for help. The frigate USS Orlando went to their assistance.

We were found five days later by a British cargo ship, and the Orlando brought the crew from the bow to us. The Orlando returned to the bow and found it capsized, with only the point of the bow above water. They sank the bow with cannon fire.

We sailed the stern section to Adak, where the crew was removed and sent home. Four of us remained aboard until July, when the section was towed to Anchorage, where it provided electricity to the city for many years.

I continued going to sea until I retired Jan. 1, 1980, as chief engineer of the supertanker SS Kenai.



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