Of Stars and Planets - and a Lost Father
by Captain George Duffy

Philip P. McKeever was in the engine room crew of the U.S. flag tanker SS William F. Humphrey in July 1942 when it was sunk by the German raider Michel. Seriously wounded, he was taken prisoner and was still aboard when the Michel sank the MV American Leader and captured me and forty six of my shipmates.

Thus, he shared our sojourn into the hands of the Japanese, and was aboard the prison ship Junyo Maru when it was torpedoed by HMS Tradewind in the Indian Ocean on September 18, 1944. Phil didn't make it, leaving his wife and a daughter Elizabeth (born in 1942) who, therefore never knew him.


Tanker SS William F. Humphrey  German raider Michel
Tanker SS William F. Humphrey German raider Michel

More than forty years later this girl, who had become the wife of James Gardner and the mother of two sons, began having strange dreams relating to stars and planets and her lost father, of whose fate she knew nothing. Inspired by her dreams, she and Jim embarked on a search for Phil McKeever's history.

Their first approach was to the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, a few miles from where they lived. That should have been enough, but their contact was unbelievably ignorant and turned them away.

Next, they tried the seamen's unions in the city. After several false starts they reached an official of the National Maritime Union (NMU) who had in his office a copy of "A Careless Word ... A Needless Sinking. A History of the United States Merchant Marine in World War II," by Capt. Arthur R. Moore of Hallowell, Maine, published by the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy!

In this encyclopedia is a photo of the SS William F. Humphrey, an account of her loss, and names and details of her deceased crew members, some of which I had provided to Captain Moore. By luck and perseverance the Gardners had the basic story, but I still wonder at the ineptness of the person who answered the telephone at the Academy - and the perspicacity of Carmelo Guastella of the NMU.

A letter to Captain Moore elicited a quick response wherein he told Elizabeth and Jim that he knew two persons, former prisoners of war, who would be able to provide further details. He named me and Stanley Gorski, who had been the bosun in the American Leader and had survived the Junyo Maru. Captain Moore sent us the Gardner's address and telephone number. In a matter of weeks, in April 1990, my wife Margaret and I visited them at their home in New Hyde Park on Long Island.

Later that year, I acted as Master of Ceremonies at the Merchant Marine Academy - with Messrs. Gorski and Guastella on the podium - when Elizabeth McKeever Gardner was formally presented her father's Certificate of Honorable Discharge and his various decorations, including the Mariners Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal.


Honorable Discharge

 Photo of Phil McKeever
Honorable Discharge to Phillip Patrick McKeever "Who Died in the Service of our Country as a Member of the United States Coast Guard" Photo of Phil McKeever from his U.S. Coast Guard Seaman's Document returned by the Japanese Government to the family. Document damaged during the sinking of the Junyo Maru.

On April 8, 1994, at the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, the book was closed on Philip P. McKeever when the Department of Veterans Affairs emplaced his Memorial plaque.

"We have now come full circle from the original dreams to the final resting place of a wandering spirit", wrote Elizabeth and Jim. "We believe that Phil McKeever is now at rest. His story has been told".

Japanese Death Certificate for McKeever, P.  

Japanese Death Certificate for McKeever, P.

Date of Death: Sept. 18, 1944 @ 1830 lcl off Muko
Place of Death: Muko Island near Sumatra 101.11° by 2.53°
Cause of Death: Sinking and Drowning
  the Junyo Maru was attacked and sunk by enemy submarine on Sept. 18,1944 ship went down too fast to save him. While transporting Caucasian and Malaysian Prisoners from Ambon & Manado
Date of Certificate: Sept. 18, 1944
Army Lt. Ryoichi Takahashi
Commanding Officer Junyo Maru

[As far as we know, no other family has ever received a Japanese Death Certificate for a POW.]

A similar version of this story appeared in The Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts and the American Merchant Marine Veterans quarterly, "News".


Attack on the SS William F. Humphrey
At 9:42 PM on July 16, 1942, the tanker SS William F. Humphrey was in ballast on her way from Capetown, South Africa to Trinidad when she was attacked by the raider Michel. Hit by at least 60 shells, hundreds of rounds of machine gun fire, and 3 torpedoes, one of which started a fire, she sank 800 miles west of Africa. The ship's complement included 41 crew and 7 Naval Armed Guard.

Lost in the sinking of the SS William F. Humphrey:
Cyril Clark, Second Engineer
William Dowe, Bosun
Wilfredo Iglesias, Pumpman
Philip McKenzie, Pumpman
2 Naval Armed Guard, names unknown

The Master, 8 crew members and 2 Armed Guard managed to avoid capture by the raider and were rescued by a Norwegian freighter on July 22. Some of the men suffered serious injuries.

26 crew and 3 Armed Guard taken prisoner:
1 Naval Armed Guard died on board Michel from wounds
Aleuriano T. Furtado, Messman, died in Japanese prison camp
William W. Hosey, Able Bodied Seaman, died in Japanese prison camp
Thomas Knutsen, Third Mate, died in Japanese prison camp
Phillip McKeever, Fireman/Watertender, died aboard the Junyo Maru when it was sunk by Allied submarines,

22 crew and 2 Armed Guard released from prison camp after the war

The raider Michel sank the following ships, listed in chronological order:

Under command of Captain Ruckteschell: Patella (Britain), Connecticut (US), Kattegat (Norway), George Clymer (US), Lylepark (Britain), Gloucester Castle (Britain), William F. Humphrey (US), Aramis (Norway), Arabistan (Britain), American Leader (US), Empire Dawn (Britain), Sawokla (US), Eugenia Livanos (Greece), Empire March (Britain).

Under command of Captain Gumprich: Hoegh Silverdawn (Norway), Ferncastle (Norway), India.

The Michel was sunk by the submarine USS Tarpon on October 17, 1943 near Tokyo Bay.

A similar version of this story appeared in The Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts


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