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World War II veterans connect via online database

Posted Tuesday, May 22, 2007

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They call it six degrees of separation, but in this case, it was only two degrees. Jim O’Donnell came to work at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., as he had for more than 10 years. As usual, he expected to help visitors with their various questions about the Navy Memorial and The Navy Log, the National Registry of Sea Service. The gentleman who approached him that day did not appear to be any different; Henry K. Bowers wanted help in finding the record of his Navy service in The Navy Log. What was curious to O’Donnell is that a portfolio Bowers carried with him contained a reference to the Liberty Ship SS Charles Morgan.

O’Donnell’s father-in-law, James R. Conners, Sr., served as the Assistant Engineering Officer aboard the SS Morgan and survived the sinking of the ship. In the wake of the Normandy invasion, the SS Morgan was struck by a 500-pound bomb and a fatal fire ensued. The crew was forced to abandon the ship and her stern settled on the bottom of the ocean in 10 minutes. Then-Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Bowers was part of the boarding party from LCT (5) 474 that volunteered to come aboard and attempt to extinguish the fire and evacuate the crew.

“When I asked Henry [Bowers] for more details, he showed me photos he took -- with a Brownie camera -- of the Charles Morgan as she sank,” O’Donnell recounts. “Further, the man he saw in the SS Morgan’s engine room was an Assistant Engineering Officer of the build and appearance of my father-in-law.” Conners had been a fire captain in his hometown of Everett, Mass., so his firefighting skills came in handy that day.

News of the sinking of the SS Morgan reached Navy Ensign O’Donnell, who at the time was the Officer-in-Charge of LCT (6) 1111 in the Marianas Islands’ vicinity of the Pacific Ocean. The tragedy prompted him to write to his high school sweetheart, Captain Conners’ daughter Jeanne -- to find out if her father had survived. He had. She wrote back to O’Donnell and their teenage romance blossomed into a marriage proposal. Jim and Jeanne O’Donnell just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary, they just attended their first reunion of WWII LCT Flotillas in Baton Rouge, La., on April 19, 2007, and they will be celebrating Father’s Day with their family. O’Donnell is still amazed at the small-world stories he encounters in his work at the Navy Memorial and The Navy Log.

As our nation continues to lose the aging World War II generation of veterans and as our Vietnam-era veterans start to retire and age, their stories of service and sacrifice are timeless. The impact their military service had on their personal lives, just like O’Donnell’s and Bowers’, is immeasurable. As Father’s Day fast approaches, don’t forget to give the veterans in your life -- your father, grandfather, brother, uncle, son, grandson or boyfriend -- a gift that lasts in perpetuity. Preserve their record of service for posterity by logging into The United States Navy Memorial offers Sea Service veterans (Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine) the opportunity to register themselves or their family and friends in this free database -- which is then available to the general public forever.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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World War II veterans connect via online database
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