Thursday, September 20, 2012

What my grandfather did during World War II

My cousin Marcus sent along a great newspaper clipping this morning from The Glens Falls Times in 1943.  My grandfather and namesake, John Merton Magee, served in the Merchant Marine during World War II aboard a ship that was torpedoed in the North Atlantic.  I had always heard the story when I was growing up, but didn't know that there was a newspaper account, too.  Here's the text, with a .jpg of the original clipping below:

Glens Falls Times (1943, date and page currently unknown)

John M. Magee, Chestertown, Was Aboard Merchant Ship Torpedoed Off Africa; Suffered Broken Arm

Midshipman John M. Magee, son of Dr. and Mrs. John A. Magee of Chestertown, formerly of Glens Falls, has returned to duty with the United States Merchant Marine after spending three weeks' liberty with his parents.

Early in January Midshipman Magee left the East Coast aboard a ship which was part of a large convoy. The ship lost the convoy as the result of being crippled in a hurricane, and proceeded alone. About 800 miles off Africa she was struck by a torpedo fired by a German submarine. Magee was on duty in the engine room at the time and was rendered unconscious, but revived when water poured into theengine room, and he reached the deck through an escape hatch. Later he found his arm had been fractured.

The ship was abandoned and after she sank the submarine surfaced near Magee's life raft and he and his companions were told to tie up to the U-boat. This they did and they were questioned for about an hour before being allowed to cast off. The next day they were picked up by a neutral destroyer and after being on it for four days while she was searching for other life boats and rafts they were taken to a neutral island port.

Midshipman Magee and his companions spent the next two months there, not knowing whether they were to be interned for the duration or not. On St. Patrick's Day an allied destroyer came into port and Magee, after switching uniforms with a sailor, was stowed away aboard her. She was a striking force and he was put with a gun crew, standing both gun and sea watches. He saw action in the English Channel and off St. Nazaire battling German submarines.

When the destroyer put into Ireland Magee was put ashore and after going through the usual routine the Red Cross quartered him at Magee College, which is used to house service men. He was in Ireland for about a week and then was sent to Scotland, where he stayed about the same length of time at another rest hotel for allied service men. While in Londonderry he saw the mother of General Montgomery.

Magee attended Chestertown High School and North Carolina State College, Raleigh, N.C. At North Carolina State he played basketball with "Bones" McKinney, who is well remembered in Glens Falls, having played on the Durham High School TEam, winners of the 1940 Eastern States tournament.


And from Marcus, this is how this little historical gem made it back to the family:

Hey guys! Bill Carboy (lives on Loon Lake) had a phone call from the widow of the former Chestertown High Basketball coach who asked that he deliver a newspaper article that her husband had kept from the Glens Falls Times in 1943. Said article is attached hereto. I thought it was pretty cool! I hope that everyone is doing well. If I've left anyone out, forward away! -Marcus


Click here for Part 2, the amazing second part of this story: And now, the rest of the story.


  1. Thanks, John. I saved the article.

  2. Oh, how very interesting.
    What a wonderful find!