Robert Engler Cadet-Midshipman
Recently in a prolonged fit of nostalgia I was looking at pictures I had taken while on the America as a cadet-midshipman in the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps, 1946-47. Then I discovered your web page and was delighted. After reading most of what was available I realized that perhaps my contribution would add something coming from a different perspective.
I and two other C/M’s, Anatole Basil Kowalchuk and Donald E. Brown, made the first postwar maiden voyage and stayed with the America for 4 mos. making a number of round trips – NY, Cobh, Southampton, LeHavre. It was the experience of my lifetime at the age of nineteen. Our duties were confined to the bridge and environs and we had little or nothing to do with the passengers. Our quarters were on the bridge deck and we ate in the officers mess. Mostly we stood bridge watch which, for me, was 12-4, ran messages and learned as much as we could about the duties of a deck officer. At times intimidating, but always exciting and fun. This was my second year in the cadet corps and I had spent the first part of my sea year aboard the S.S. Australia Victory, a cargo ship so the America was quite a contrast.
Of many memories one in particular stands out and is probably worth repeating because it is perhaps humorous, though at the time it was, to me, humiliating: one of my duties when on watch was to escort the ship’s pilot to the sideport where he boarded the pilot boat after we had left Southampton. The usual path was from the bridge to an adjacent elevator, down several decks, then aft to the side port. For reasons unknown, on this occasion I thought I had a better and more direct route to save time. So I took this old sea captain (he looked like Winston Churchill) directly aft on the boat deck and then down an elevator there which opened into a passenger space. Only one problem. The doors between the passenger space and the crew space which we had to use to get to the port as gated and locked. Since I was not all that familiar with that part of the ship as to be able to find a way around the blockage, I decided to retreat back the way we had come and resort to the more familiar route. Of course, by this time the pilot was huffing and puffing and furious.
Well, we finally got there after the ship had been dead in the water for God knows how long. When I got back to the bridge, Commodore Harry Manning, was furious, too.
The aftermath is a blank, thankfully!
Robert Engler, MD (Ret)