Honoring Their Memories

Merchant Marine Memorial

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born.

 - Ecclesiastes 44:9

The American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial sits in Battery Park at the southernmost tip of Manhattan. Dedicated in 1991, it was long overdue in honoring the over 6,500, some say closer to 9,000 merchant mariners who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. The Memorial, and military veteran status for many merchant mariners who served, may never have come to pass but for the forward thinking and dogged determination of one of Mass Maritime’s very own, Newburyport native George Duffy '41.

Duffy was on the merchant ship American Leader in Manila Bay when the Japanese bombed nearby Cavite Naval Base just one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States was at war. The American Leader returned to New York where it loaded military cargo bound for allied forces in the Persian Gulf and India. On September 10, 1942 they were headed home when the ship was attacked by the German auxiliary cruiser Michel. Two hours after the (night-time) sinking, the Michel returned to pick up 47 of the 58 man crew. They were turned over to the Japanese, and George Duffy spent the next 1,119 days as a prisoner of war in Java, Singapore, and finally Sumatra constructing the Pakan Baru Railway, the "railway of death." Duffy and others labored under extreme conditions until the Japanese surrender in August, 1945. Of the original 58 mariners who left New York three years earlier, 28 returned home.