Annual Rerun: Remembering My Father on Deer Lodge Day

Leave a comment

deer_lodge

74 years ago today, my father Nat Engel was a U.S. Merchant Marine radio officer on the S.S. Deer Lodge.

At sea on the Indian Ocean, the ship was bombed to smithereens by a German u-boat. Several were killed and he was injured before making it to shore in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. From there, he was hospitalized and sidelined for several months. made lifelong friends, served out his time on other ships, came home, met my mother, raised my sisters and I, and lived a full, interesting and sometimes eccentric 84 years until 2007.

That’s why February 17, 1943 is always special in our family as Deer Lodge Day. I don’t have many examples of my father’s writings of that time except a diary he kept on the following ship, the S.S. Edward Burleson. Here are two passages:

“During the early portion of this outward lap, I came to know the second mate pretty well. I share with him the unhappy distinction of being the only other man on board who’s been sunk by the Germans. He’d been on the Morremac Rey when she was divebombed and sunk off Murmansk, and had the gray hair to prove it. He spoke freely and often of his experience, and knowing what it must have been, I felt for him. But despite his 15 years at sea, he spoke of little else. On the basis of that one trip, he tried to tell Lt. (JG) Ralph Boches how the gun crew should be run, the signalmen how to hoist their flags and me how to take a time tick.” Dad then goes on to say how bored he got with the fellow.

OF HIS LONG WAIT FOR A SHIP IN NEWPORT NEWS: “I won’t plunge into the well-worn theme of servicemen in southern towns. I’ll simply say that despite a three-week stay, my most pungent memory is of a loverly ballad that was beginning to sweep the country, and second best is my short stint as second fiddle to a discharged WAC who was waiting for a paratrooper from Topeka who’d promised to marry her. The song haunted us everywhere, from the jukeboxes in the beerless taverns to the groups of soldiers trying to drown their boredom in a sea of noise. I’ll think of the Hampton roads Port of Embarkation and its canteens and environs (visits to Norfolk included) whenever I hear “Pistol Packin’ Mama”…..