My father was a Merchant Marine in WWII. I remember him telling us some stories about when he would travel around the world in an Oil Tanker; going to places like the Persian Gulf, Ulithi, Townsville, Australia, Hawaii. It all sounded romantic and adventurous enough. But as I got older I dug a little deeper into his life and what he really did in the great World War II. I learned a few more details like; He achieved the rank of 2ND Mate, sailing on five T-2 "Mission Class" tankers during the war.
Yes, he traveled to exotic far off lands; but hardly ever in a convoy. They shipped out mostly as a lone tanker; because their payload was High Grade Aviation Fuel. If he were in a convoy while carrying this fuel, and they were torpedoed, chances are many other ships would also be destroyed due to the volatility of the high octane. So needless to say, for four years straight, he would be at sea, sometimes for six months, floating around on a time bomb, watching his youth pass before his eyes.
He didn't fight the war at the front, but was nearly torpedoed while serving in the Indian Ocean while supplying the Flying Tigers in Burma. He also survived the Great Typhoon of 1944 barely getting out of Ulithi; where he said it was, "all ships for themselves" to get out of the harbor, then encountering 100ft waves in the storm.
A few years ago I was watching Huell Howser's California's Gold. Huell was doing a special on the Ghost Fleet in Sui Sun Bay up near San Francisco. After gaining access to the ships of historic note Huell pointed out this one lone ship off in the distance. The cameraman panned across the bay to one lone Tanker resting at anchor. It was the "Mission Santa Ines"; the last surviving Mission Class T-2 tanker left in existence from WWII. When I saw this ship, I immediately called my brother, Jerry, in San Lorenzo, and convinced him to come with me to go see this ship.
A week later, I drove up to the Bay area from Santa Barbara, and together he and I drove to the little harbor at Martinez. It was early morning, and we met some man who just returned from fishing in his small fishing boat. I hired him for a price of $75.00 to take Jerry and me out to the Ghost fleet off shore. We spent two and a half hours putting around and roaming in and out of the rows of mothballed rust buckets; all once-proud vessels that served our nation gallantly during WWII and afterwards.
It was dawn, and breezy. We circled around the ship two or three times very slowly. I was excited to be viewing this relic from the past; in 3-D!! After snapping off a few rolls of film, we saw all we needed to see of the Mission Santa Ines, sitting all by herself, destitute, in the windswept brackish waters of the Bay. Her better days gone by, only the ship's log, wherever it is, recollects her journey. As I only had a few days left before my father's 80th birthday, I headed back home to SB and got to work on his birthday present.
This painting represents the last surviving Mission Class Tanker from WWII. Though it isn't one of the specific ships my father served on, it still represent the class of ship he sacrificed much of his youth, for in service to our country. I honor him for this.
Sadly, the latest word is this vessel is now doomed to be scraped for its steel. No one will ever see the likes of this kind of vessel ever again in the history of the world. It will now only be seen in movies, photographs, and paintings...
Happy Birthday Dad!
The Last Mission Tanker 12"x12" oil, 1998