|REMEMBERING THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE S.S. HENRY BACON WITH MERCHANT MARINER RICHARD BURBINE|
|Monday, March 30, 2020|
By: Luke Lorenz
“When final victory is ours there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.” — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
While so many often overlooked Merchant Mariners deserve our respect and gratitude, it is hard to find a more worthy recipient of Gen. (and later President) Eisenhower’s praise than Richard Burbine. A survivor of
the S.S. Henry Bacon, he would go on to serve his nation for anoth
er two decades transitioning from Merchant Mariner to Marine Corps and back again. Even more impressive than his career is the fact that he would be willing to join up today at 94 years old if his nation needed him.
This is the type of heroism and patriotism that Burbine would like all of us to associate with the Merchant Marines. In World War II, this vital group hauled ammunition, supplies and troops to every theater of conflict. In the case of the S.S. Henry Bacon, they were even tasked with transporting Norwegian civilians fleeing German occupation.
When the ship was downed and only two lifeboats were left operable after waves of German strafing rounds, the first order given was that Norwegian civilians would all receive seats on the boats. The chief engineer, Donald Haviland, gave up his seat and perished with the ship. A fellow sailor and friend of Burbine’s on the S.S. Henry Bacon, Mason Burr, lost his life on the mission. Burr’s frozen body washed up on the shores of Norway nearly five years later, perfectly preserved. A memorial stone marks the site of where he was found, and his body has since been laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
Burbine and three colleagues would wait in the icy waves until a British vessel recovered them. Covered in frost and unconscious, the Brits thought they were dead until Burbine opened his eyes.
“We don’t need the honors, but I’ll tell you this. Today’s Merchant Marine are just as important as any military outfit in the country” he says.
Despite his incredible courage, Burbine would not receive his Mariner’s Medal until 1992, 47 years after the sinking of the S.S. Henry Bacon. There was no ceremony. The medal arrived in the mail.
Richard Burbine recounts the sacrifices of his fellow Merchant Mariners when asked about medals. He describes how they braved the same treacherous waters as the Navy during Vietnam in order to resupply forces. He mentions the large-scale medical evacuations required in the beginning of the Korean War and the constant shipments of ammunition that needed protection during World War II.
The Merchant Marine have been vital to every major American military operation, and they provide a critical though often unappreciated service to our nation. As we highlight Richard Burbine for his heroism, let us also follow his guidance by remembering all of his fellow Mariners that have given so much for our safety, security and prosperity.