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Strand Notebook | Horry has a history with Merchant Marines

It’s hard to imagine Myrtle Beach in total darkness, blacked out, not even one car light shining; no lights visible from any homes or businesses, but that’s how it was at times during World War II when the tranquil ocean became an entranceway for danger.

The late Blanche Floyd wrote about those times in some of her history columns for The Sun News. “Civil Defense volunteers patrolled the beaches and kept a lookout from the top floor of the old Seaside Inn building.” (The Seaside Inn, built in 1901, was Myrtle Beach’s first oceanfront hotel.)

Floyd wrote, “The Inn, no longer used as a hotel, was boarded up and deserted. It was quite an eerie experience to mount those flights of stairs and take a watch on a dark night. It was even scarier to see a sudden flare out on the horizon beyond coastal reefs. Any explosion confirmed the fact that a deadly cat-and-mouse game was afoot. It could be a U Boat attacking a freighter, or a U.S. ship sending a German submarine to a watery grave. Local residents watched for telltale oil slicks or bits of wreckage to wash up along the sandy beach.”

Although there are no local records that I am aware of that lists Merchant mariners who died on the numerous destroyed freighters in World War II, at least one Horry man is known to have died when The SS City of Atlanta was sunk by a German U-boat off the North Carolina coast on Jan. 19, 1942. A few survivors clung to debris as they were shelled. A Conway newspaper reported that they were yelling and cursing at the U-boat.

According to that newspaper, the body of John A. Blanton was among the few that washed ashore. Since I learned of his death years ago, I have tried to connect John A. Blanton to his family.

I did find him on the Horry County Historical Society site online in the cemetery section. His name was John Arthur Blanton and he is buried in the Mount Olive Baptist Church cemetery. He was killed four months before his 38th birthday.

For anyone interested in their ancestry, his story would be one of importance, connecting him to world events. A detailed account of the torpedoing and shelling of the SS City of Atlanta, along with the names of all of the crew members, can be found by searching the Internet. One of the sites listing the names is Bud’s Liberty and Merchant Ship Histories.

While the Merchant Marines might not have had historians keeping track in real time, many have written about the large number of ships lost and the thousands of mariners who died at sea or in Japanese or German POW camps.

A prime source for this information is “A Careless Word – A Needless Sinking: A History of the Staggering Losses Suffered by the U.S. Merchant Marine, Both in Ships and Personnel During World War II” by Captain Arthur R. Moore. It was published by the American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1983 and can be purchased on Amazon and other outlets.

Peggy Mishoe, pegmish@sccoast.net, 365-3885.

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