Liberty's War

An Engineer's Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-1945
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Published:August 15, 2017

"Liberty's War" exhibit at the American Merchant Marine Museum on view through February 2019. Find out more about the exhibit on Going Places, Far & Near.

PRESS RELEASE: Liberty's War: An Engineer's Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-1945 by Naval Institute Press.

EXCERPT: Liberty's War An Engineer's Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-1945.

In the dark days of World War II, merchant mariners made heroic contributions to the eventual Allied victory and suffered tremendous casualties in so doing. Among these were the engineers who toiled deep in the bowels of the ship and suffered appalling casualties. In part, this was because enemy submarines typically targeted engine rooms to cripple the vessels, but often it was because ships engineers remained at their stations aligning fire pumps, securing the boilers, and performing the tasks that would give the ship and crew a fighting chance for survival. After the war, engineering personnel were unlikely to talk about their experiences, let alone write them down. These modest and self-effacing men were more comfortable in a world of turbines and pistons, so they seldom brought their stories forward. Liberty’s War sets out to explore the experiences of one such engineer, Herman Melton, from his time as a cadet at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy through his experiences at sea as a third assistant engineer.

Melton’s story is representative of the thousands of Merchant Marine engineers who served on board Liberty ships during the war. Like many young Americans, he sought to do his part, and in 1942 he obtained an appointment to the newly created U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York. As a cadet on board the Liberty ship SS Cornelius Harnett, Melton saw action against German U-boats and bombers as part of the Murmansk Run convoys of 1943. After graduating from the academy in 1944, he shipped out to the Pacific Theatre, surviving the sinking of his Liberty ship, the SS Antoine Saugrain, and its top-secret cargo. He also helped to salvage two damaged Liberty ships before sailing in the William Sharon back to San Francisco, displaying all the resourcefulness, intelligence, and grit Americans came to expect of its merchant mariners.

In a 1992 ceremony at the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., Melton received a memorial medal from the Russian government for his service on the Murmansk Run. In the last years of his life, he sought to reconstruct and understand his wartime experiences, aided by his son Will. The result is this compelling and meticulously researched personal account of World War II as seen by a young merchant marine engineering officer. 

List Price: $24.95
Member Price: $19.96
Product Details
  • Subject: Biography & Memoirs
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (August 15, 2017)
  • ISBN-10: 1591146402
  • ISBN-13: 9781591146407
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 14.24 oz
  • "Liberty's War is worth reading on several levels: a memoir, an adventure, and underreported history." —The Daily News
  • "Liberty’s War lives up to the merchant mariners' motto, ‘We’ll Deliver.’ Melton’s memoir of his career as a cadet at the fledgling U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and as a wartime merchant mariner is written with a frankness that belies the wrenching uncertainty that must have gripped his generation. The mixture of terrifying experiences aboard and alongside Liberty ships from Murmansk to the Philippines and pranks, hasty cross-country treks on leave, and marriage are a refreshing reminder that life goes on, as it must—and that the cost of freedom is paid by the many, not a few.” —Lincoln Paine, author of The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World
  • “[An] excellent resource. It’s fascinating!” —WTBF AM/FM
  • Liberty’s War is very much worth reading by those who are interested in the Merchant Marine or World War II memoirs. It is a rare example of a junior officers’ memoire that is informative and readable, giving us a detailed view of life on Liberty Ships hunted by U-boats, tossed about by Arctic gales and heavy seas, and attacked by Japanese aircraft. Recommended as a primary source and popular history.” —Naval Historical Foundation

Herman Melton (1920–2013) was a World War II veteran of both the Murmansk Run and Pacific convoys. Will Melton, son of the author, retired in 2015 after forty years as a public relations officer and fund-raiser for schools, colleges, and scientific research organizations. His lifelong interest in military history was inspired by family trips as a boy to battlefields and history museums.


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