Edited by board administrator February 14, 2014, 6:32 pm
Welcome to the little-known U.S. Navy Armed Guard.
First of all, what was your father's name?
It sounds as if he was indeed in the Armed Guard, even if he never mentioned it. If he was a Navy gunner serving aboard merchant ships, that fits the description exactly.
The Navy did not "take over" merchant ships during the war. (The U.S. government took over the relatively few U.S. merchant ships that already existed at the beginning of the war, but they did not go into the Navy. Most U.S. merchant ships that participated in the war were built during the war but they too were not part of the Navy.) In total there were thousands of merchant ships during the war that were operated by civilian merchant marine crews. As noted, the ships were typically owned or had been requisitioned by the U.S. government or an Allied government. These ships were never part of the Navy, and their merchant marine crews were civilians, not U.S. Navy personnel. (Think about that for a moment: civilians voluntarily went to war. There were several hundred thousand civilian merchant mariners, and thousands of them died. Civilians all.)
After the war many of those merchant ships were sold to private owners, or returned to the private owners from which the government had earlier requisitioned them, but that's getting ahead of the story. The point is, the ships were never part of the Navy.
What happened was that the Navy placed aboard U.S. and Allied merchant ships detachments of Navy Armed Guard personnel to operate defensive weapons on those ships, and to serve as radio operators and signalmen. Merchant marine crews generally were not well trained in the operation of weaponry -- their job was to operate the ship -- but the Armed Guard personnel were trained in gunnery.
You say your father was a gunners mate. That was his rank. (Well, actually, that was his rating. Officers have ranks, enlisted sailors have ratings.) So while his official rating was gunners mate, his job within the Armed Guard crew was that of pointer. I hope some of the Armed Guard veterans who read this message board will explain for us what the job of a pointer was as compared with some of the other gunnery positions. But there is no discrepancy between how your father described himself (gunners mate) and what his discharge says (pointer).
You're right about daily life: long periods of tedium (standing watch, maintenance, drills) interrupted on occasion by periods of terror. That's the lot of sailors in wartime, whether on merchant vessels or warships.
The wartime movements of merchant ships were secret at the time, of course, but are no longer. Unfortunately there is not a lot of that information online. There are a couple of websites of which I am aware (www.convoyweb.org.uk and www.warsailors.com) that list ships by convoy, dates, and originating and destination ports, although neither site is comprehensive. I did searches at both sites and found neither KENYON VICTORY nor KINGSTON VICTORY.
The subscription website www.ancestry.com also has list of passengers and crewmen arriving at certain U.S. ports of entry following a foreign voyage. Here I had minor success.
SS KINGSTON VICTORY left Baltimore on her maiden voyage on or about March 30, 1945. She made a stop in New Orleans, then continued to Marseilles, France. I don't know whether she was in convoy or not. She reached Marseilles on an unspecified date, then proceeded to New York, arriving there on May 18. She had a very small Armed Guard crew (just 12 men) with the following last names: Arkills (or Arkilla or Arkille), Gaibel, Holman, Holys, Neiding, Pickett, Ramsey, Raucher, Schnippert, Sersa, Stuart, Thomas. Would any of these have been your father?
I do not find anything in ancestry.com for KENYON VICTORY. That ship was not completed until June 1945 at a California shipyard. I will speculate that she may have made one wartime voyage in the Pacific. The records at ancestry.com, I have found, are not very complete with respect to identifying Armed Guard crewmen arriving at West Coast ports.
The best source for this information, but not online, is the U.S. National Archives. Records known as ship movement cards (like the websites mentioned above, detailing the convoys, dates, and ports for a given ship) and Armed Guard officers' reports (detailing day-by-day the events of the voyage from the Armed Guard viewpoint) are found at a major Archives facility in College Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. More to the point, the facility is about 35 miles from my home, and my wife and I occasionally do research there. Next time we go, I'll try to remember to look for records for these two ships.
If you live sufficiently nearby yourself, you can do the research. If not, you may be able to have the Archives staff do the research for you. There would be a fee for staff time, photocopying and mailing but the staff would let you know the likely charges before commencing research. If you wait for me -- it's free!
Please let me know your father's full name.
You are right to be proud of your father's service. He was a brave man. They all were.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster
Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website