Thank you for your inquiry. I can offer some additional insight and context to the information you have, which you may find beneficial.
First, U.S. Navy Armed Guard personnel in fact were often assigned to foreign-flagged ships, particularly Panamanian ships but also those of other Allied nations (excepting the British, which used their merchant seamen in roles similar to that of the Armed Guard). In fact, following is a link to a list of 67 Panamanian and Honduran ships lost or damaged during the war that had U.S. merchant marine and/or U.S. Navy Armed Guard personnel aboard; note that EL ALMIRANTE is not one of the ships mentioned, for whatever reason: http://www.armed-guard.com/panama.html.
Two sentences in the above-linked page jumped out at me: “I have listed the names of all those American Merchant Seamen [and Armed Guard sailors] who were lost or wounded on these ships. These men were never listed as lost by the U.S. Coast Guard as they were crew members on a foreign flag vessel.” If the United States did not recognize the loss of merchant marine or Armed Guard sailors because they died or were injured while on a foreign-flagged ship, this may explain the lack of information concerning the death of Robert James Donovan. However, I will say that while I can somewhat understand the Coast Guard’s reasoning in the case of the loss of merchant sailors, I would be astonished if the Navy did not fully document the death of Robert Donovan.
Since the information on the form you found originated with Donovan’s father rather than from U.S. Navy records, one should treat the information cautiously, as you have. Newport, Rhode Island, was a Navy basic training base, not specific to the Armed Guard. Typically men entering the Navy took their boot camp training at one of a number of basic training sites, and then volunteered for the Armed Guard. Thereafter they would attend specialized Armed Guard training, most often in gunnery, less often in signals or radio. Then they would be assigned formally to one of three Armed Guard Centers (Brooklyn, New Orleans or Treasure Island/San Francisco) and from their Center would be assigned to a ship. From what I have seen, assignment to a ship was somewhat random, often apparently grouped alphabetically by name, rather than as a specified company.
While in basic training, and I assume again while in Armed Guard-specific training, men were organized formally into companies, going through training together on a given schedule. However, it would be very, very unlikely, to the point of impossibility in my opinion, that a company going through basic training would be assigned en masse as an Armed Guard unit on a merchant ship, without having been through specialized Armed Guard training. By that point, the original boot camp company would have been scattered to the winds. I am quite confident that Donovan’s official military record would show several other assignments between Newport and EL ALMIRANTE. And as you realize, that would take a request on your part for those records. At least you seem to be familiar with how to do that.
I hope this information is useful.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster
Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website