Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020
By Luke Lorenz
Manager of Government Affairs
Navy League of the United States
This is part of an ongoing series, where we look at the lives and legacies of U.S. sea service men and women.
There is good reason for Jim Greer to be a man of such strong faith as he is today. Throughout his years in the Merchant Marine, his life was repeatedly placed in the hands of a power other than his own. After numerous near-death experiences, Jim was able to return home to a loving family and stable career, and he has never stopped being grateful for both.
Greer dropped out of high school to join the Merchant Marine in 1942. Even this decision was not entirely his own as the military would likely have drafted him anyway. Training aboard ship, he was soon en route to Aruba to load up with fuel. Soon after, his ship was torpedoed. He ran to his assigned lifeboat and waited for others to arrive. When no one showed up, he went searching for them. Meanwhile, the lifeboat was swamped in the churning waters, and Greer was forced to make use of a makeshift raft until he was picked up by another U.S. vessel and returned to the mainland. There, he learned one of the first hard lessons of being a Merchant Marine: if your ship gets torpedoed, you stop getting paid.
In 1943 he was on another oiler headed to London. The Germans still had France and were continually bombing the British mainland. The journey was perilous, but they arrived at their destination. Greer still remembers how London lay in ruins all around him. But the most extraordinary encounter was yet to occur. As they left London in a 42-ship convoy, a German submarine surfaced right in front of Greer’s ship. A U.S. destroyer charged forward to ram it. Apparently, the German sub fired off a torpedo just as the destroyer was making contact. Both ships were destroyed and sank to the bottom of the sea.
He would see much horror throughout his subsequent trips. In Anzio, he saw the starving peasants of Italy. In Calcutta, he saw people dead in the streets. In Shanghai, he saw bodies floating down rivers. But despite these awful experiences, someone was clearly looking out for Jim Greer. As sickness crept through his ship, he was sent to the doctor who told him that he needed to have his tonsils removed. Agreeing to the procedure, Jim was taken off the ship just before it was sunk in the Atlantic. His life was saved by a minor and seemingly randomly timed medical procedure.