Every writer of Gent Life has a divine connection to the Second World War. Through grandfathers and great uncles, we hear stories of commitment and sacrifice that have traveled through decades of time filling us with pride and inspiration. The unfortunate part is we’re all losing this generation fast, leaving only our parents and soon ourselves to carry their story of contribution during the world’s greatest conflict. On this Memorial Day, we focus on one such story:
James E. McAleer: Quartermaster PO1 US Navy 1943-1945
Born in Brooklyn, NY and growing up in Whitestone, Queens, James E. McAleer didn’t finish High School (not uncommon in the 1930’s as the United States was still recovering from the Great Depression with no child labor laws). Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, James was drafted into the US Armed Services. He served in the US Navy as Quartermaster for the USS Scott Destroyer Escort 214.
After procedures to determine sea-worthiness the USS Scott departed Curacao on October 29th, 1943 for her first transatlantic convoy voyage to Derry, Northern Ireland as flagship of Escort Division 17. The biggest enemy for James wouldn’t be the Germans but the rough weather of the North Atlantic. In an effort to avoid German U-Boats (torpedoes are ineffective in the high seas at the same time unable to recharge their batteries at the surface) James upheld the daunting task of navigating the convoy through the North Atlantic, assembling his own weather reports based on wind, sight, and communication with other ships through code.
It’s difficult to paint the chilling picture my father told me when describing my grandfather’s constant bouts with North Atlantic storms where the entire bow of the 1,400-ton ship would submerge, only to fight its way out just to crash under the next wave again for hours. One such account was something to the effect of ‘wondering if we would emerge on the other side’ of every wave. After days under these conditions sailors would manifest on the deck to remove enormous collections of ice that would form on steel plates, making the ship top heavy… a dangerous and unwanted attribute of the North Atlantic seas. The USS Scott’s convoy crossed the ocean a total of 16 times without incident delivering valuable resources safely to fight the war in Europe.
On one mission, the USS Scott picked up what appeared to be an enemy ship on radar not far from the convoy (thought to be the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen). Thankfully, the German cruiser never altered course. James had said later they were never equipped to fight such a battle as they only had what he described as “a pea-shooter.”
On November 1st, 1944 Scott was detached from a slow convoy in the Mediterranean to assist the USS Frament, which had been damaged in a collision with the Italian submarine Luigi Settembrini. After searching for Italian survivors she then escorted the Frament back to Boston arriving in December.
My father has said to me “Pop Pop” loved the navy and was requested to remain at his post when the war in Europe was over to support the effort in the Pacific. However, his loyalty was with his wife Anne (who gave birth to my father in July 1943, probably while James was at sea in shake-down procedures). By war’s end, there were 2 McAleer boys and a sister on the way.
Writing this post has made me realize I’m documenting a detail in not only my family history, but, the history of the world from a micro-perspective that will carry my family’s legacy and story for generations to come. Unfortunately, James “Pop Pop” McAleer would pass away in 1981 when I was only 2… these stories are all I have. He’s now buried with his wife Anne at the Calverton National Cemetery in New York.
Co-Founder, The Gent Life