Bill Barrett began his career in the United States Merchant Marine as a cadet at the Merchant Marine Academy’s satellite campus in Pass Christian, Mississippi. His studies were interrupted when the U.S. entered World War II. He would not receive his diploma until 1968. During the war, he served on Liberty Ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. For most of his career he served aboard tankers. Often his cruises supported military operations including shuttling water to Guantanamo until the desalination plant was operational, shuttling fuel from the Persian Gulf to Cam Rahn Bay during the Vietnam war and even shuttling grain to the Soviet Union.
The Merchant Marine suffered the greatest casualty rate of all services during World War II but were not considered veterans and denied benefits until an act of Congress in 1977 and federal court order in 1988 made it so. Today’s mariners are paid quite well and while it remains a dangerous occupation, it does have its rewards.
After he retired, he returned to his home in St. Augustine. Although his maritime activities continued, they mostly revolved around fishing. He died in 1991.
On this Veterans Day, I would like to salute my father, his brother and the many merchant mariners who also served this country.