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"Liberty's War" Exhibit to Open at the American Merchant Marine Museum

KINGS POINT, N.Y., September 1, 2017 – The American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) invites the public to the opening reception of their new exhibit, “Liberty’s War,” on Friday, September 8, 2017 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

This exhibit examines the wartime experiences of Herman Melton, a 1944 graduate of USMMA.  Although he had grown up in Texas, Herman became the Academy's first appointee from the state of Kansas.  More than 65 years later and in his 90s, Herman wrote his memoirs of World War II service aboard Liberty ships, which his son, Will Melton, edited under the title Liberty’s War: An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-45. The book is to be published by U.S. Naval Institute Press in September, to coincide with the museum’s exhibit highlighting Herman’s experiences battling both the Germans and the Japanese.

Melton faced combat in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres during World War II, always serving aboard Liberty ships, the slow but enormously useful vessels that carried the supplies that propelled the Allies to victory.  During his time on convoy duty in three oceans, Herman entered combat at sea in some of the fiercest fighting with both the Germans and the Japanese. In the treacherous Murmansk run of 1942-43, Herman sailed as a Cadet-Midshipman as American and British merchant ships delivered urgently needed Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Allied convoys faced German U-boats and Luftwaffe torpedo bombers operating at their peak efficiency, out of Norwegian bases.  The result was that many Allied supply ships were lost, and many merchant mariners died while trying to supply the Russians.

During his January 1943 voyage across the Arctic Sea to north Russia, Herman’s Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, was attacked by torpedo bombers of Germany’s Coastal Air Group 406 based in Norway.  Herman’s battle station called for him to carry ammunition and reload shell magazines for the U.S. Navy Armed Guard gun crew aboard the Harnett. The gunners helped to shoot down two of the four attacking aircraft, and their commander received the Silver Star from the U.S. Navy for his performance in the action. More than fifty years later, The Russian Embassy in Washington recognized Melton in a 1994 ceremony with a medal from the Russian Government for his service.

Herman again entered a deadly combat zone during the Allies’ invasion of the Philippines in the fall of 1944. Airmen of the combined Japanese army and naval air forces waged a do-or-die battle against American forces. Herman was now the Third Assistant Engineer aboard SS Antoine Saugrain in an Allied convoy steaming from New Guinea carrying specially-trained troops and super-secret anti-aircraft equipment. During an attack by Japanese torpedo bombers, the Saugrain took two direct hits before its Master gave the order to abandon ship off Leyte Island. Although the ship’s rafts and lifeboats could carry only a fraction of the more than 200 crew and soldiers to be rescued, all hands survived thanks to two U.S. Navy frigates dispatched to pick up men in boats and swimming in the water. After two more attacks by Japanese bombers, the Saugrain was sent to the sea bottom.

 The exhibit also tells a love story, Herman’s wartime romance with Helen Dunn, his Kansas junior college sweetheart. Before departing for service in General Douglas MacArthur’s war in the South West Pacific, Herman married her in a saber ceremony in the Academy’s chapel in the old Chrysler mansion.  Liberty’s War displays period uniforms, photographs, and souvenirs of Herman’s wartime assignments and documents his training as one of the first Engineer Cadet-Midshipmen of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Those who wish to attend the opening reception are asked to R.S.V.P. to Museum@USMMA.edu by September 1. Music will be provided by the USMMA band. Light Refreshments will be served, courtesy of the Friends of the American Merchant Marine Museum. Business casual attire or uniform is requested.

“Liberty’s War” will be on display from until March, 2019.  The American Merchant Marine Museum is located on the grounds of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.  Admission is free, and it is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.  It is closed during USMMA holidays.  It is highly recommended that you call (516) 726-6047 or e-mail museum@usmma.edu before visiting.

Updated: Friday, September 1, 2017
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