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Swept Away: Life and Death at Sea in WWII

Jack Brawdy

Lauren’s wonderful piece on the sound-powered telephone—a staple of any Navy or Cost Guard ship—triggered a memory of a tragic story shared by Jack Brawdy, a WWII veteran who attended our early breakfasts before he passed away in 2012. Here is Jack’s account:

In 1943, Eddie Miller and I were sailors serving on Atlantic convoy duty aboard the destroyer USS Champlin. German submarines were a deadly menace, and they exacted a heavy toll on our supply ships. Our job was to remain vigilant and strike immediately when U­boats were detected. The subs liked to attack at dawn coming out of the sun, so we stood at general quarters every morning as daylight broke.

U.S.S. Champlin

On the roster of the Champlin we had two Eddie Millers. This Eddie had no middle name, and over the years I have always remembered him that way. On that particular morning at “dawn alert,” the weather was bad with wind blowing and squalls. Fairly large waves broke over the ship and the sun wasn’t a factor. Eddie was a torpedoman striker with me on the depth charges and had on the headphones in communication with the bridge. We marked our position: 37 degrees north latitude and 68 degrees west longitude.

US Destroyer during a storm in the South China Sea, 1945

Out of nowhere, a giant wave appeared over the bow and crashed down on the two of us head on. I grabbed a stanchion and hugged it with all my might. It all happened so fast, I don’t know how I kept my grip. When the wave receded, I saw that the phone line that had been connected to Eddie’s headphones was gone, pulled out of the bulkhead jack. Eddie Miller was nowhere to be seen. We scoured the Champlin and even turned the ship around and searched the waters. We never found him.

I sometimes wonder about that terrible day on the Atlantic Ocean. Why Eddie and not me? Eddie Miller was just a young sailor doing his duty in defense of his country, dreaming his dreams of the future like the rest of us. Looking back on my own long and fulfilling life after the war, I wonder about Eddie. Would his life have turned out like mine if I’d been the one washed overboard?

Every Memorial Day, I think of Eddie, who, for me, stands for all who gave their lives in World War II.

From the Bureau of Naval Personnel:

MILLER, Edward, SEA2, 7060872, USNR, from Old Bridge, New Jersey, location Atlantic Ocean, missing, date of loss February 5, 1943.

Note: Another Seaman 2nd Class Edward Miller, no middle name, was lost to sea in the Pacific that same date. He was from Philadelphia.