They also served

Published 12:56 pm Sunday, November 16, 2008

They also served, those men of the Merchant Marines.

Much is written and said about the service of the Army, Navy, Air Corps and Marines during World War II. Less is known about the service of those who wore the uniform of the Merchant Marines.

Grady Motes served in the Merchant Marines and he is proud of his service to his country and of those who served with him.

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Motes was a Shellhorn farm boy who registered for the draft in 1943. He was deferred for a year to work on the farm but then was classified 1-A.

“I knew about the Merchant Marines and thought that would be a place that I would fit in real well, so I joined up,” he said.

Motes, laughingly, said he’d never been farther from home than Montgomery and he’d only been there a few times.

“There I was out in the big world and it was kind of exciting for this little ol’ farm boy,” he said.

And, as it turned out, luck was on the side of the Merchant Marine from rural Pike County. After, learning what he needed to know to be a seaman, he and fellow Merchant Marines awaited their assignments.

“It came about that four seamen were needed to ship out from New Orleans to Guam,” Motes said. “All of us wanted to go and we settled it with a deck of cards. I got lucky — or maybe it was unlucky — but, anyway, I drew a King and I got to go.”

The commander of the FS-228 (freighter small) was Fred Ellis, a well-known figure in the motion picture business.

“He had been in the service and came back in,” Motes said. “He was a celebrity and we were kind of impressed by him.”

Motes didn’t stay impressed too long. He spent a lot of his time sailing the Gulf of Mexico with his head hanging over the side of the boat.

“I got seasick and that’s about as sick as you can get,” he said. “And, that wasn’t the only time. When you’re out on the water and it’s choppy, you can look out.”

The freighter sailed across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal and joined a convoy in San Diego to the North Pacific.

“What the Merchant Marines did was move materials to the front,” he said. “We were in an 180-foot boat and we were unprotected. We didn’t have anything to fight with. We had Marines assigned to protect us but we had no way to protect ourselves.”

Motes said Guam had a deep port and materials would come in there and the smaller boats like his would have to transport the materials from there to the smaller surrounding islands.

“The Japanese had taken those islands and we had to take them back,” he said.

“A lot of ships had been sunk and you could see parts of them sticking out of the water. When we were going from island to island, they’d be shelling all around us. I spent a lot of nights with my head under a life preserver because that was the only protection I had. But I wasn’t scared that I was going to die. When you’re 19 years old, you just don’t get scared about things like that.”

On the home front, there was a girl thinking about Motes and praying for him.

“Our families were real close and so Grady and I’d been friends for a long time,” Mary Motes said.

Her husband said, for him, it had been love at first sight.

“But I don’t know about her,” he said with a smile.

Mary Motes knew about war and the dangers that it posses for those who are called to duty. She had brothers who fought and a brother-in-law who lost an eye.

“When letters would come from them, Mama would sit down and read the letters to all of us,” she said. “We couldn’t wait to hear what they said. We wanted the war to be over so all of the soldiers could come home.”

Motes, like most all “soldiers,” was anxious for the war to be over and he was proud to do whatever he was asked to do to help bring it to a close.

He remembers vividly the day that word came that “a super bomb” had been dropped.

“When we heard that Japan had surrendered, soldiers started ‘burning’ up their guns — shooting them again and again to celebrate the end of the war. But those guns would shoot a long way and some soldiers were killed in the celebration. That was real sad.”

Motes wouldn’t take anything for the opportunity that he had to serve his country. He considered it an honor. And, he knows that he was blessed to come home and to have a “special” girl waiting for him.

“Every day I thank God for the blessings he has given me,” he said. “For my family, friends and for living in the greatest country on earth.”