James Oliver Calton, Jr.

James Oliver Calton, Jr.

James O. Calton, Jr. enlisted in the Merchant Marines in December of 1943 at the age of 18. His older brother Joe had already enlisted in the Army. His father, James Oliver Calton, Sr. had served in the Signal Corps during WWI. Like most young men of the time, he was anxious to do his part. Jim served until 1946, finishing the fight begun by the Japanese in December of 1941.

During those three years he was assigned to a Liberty Ship (the SS Bret Harte), a Victory Ship (the El Salvadore Victory), and two T-2 Tankers (the SS Sacketts Harbor and the SS Montebello Hills).

He made all of the usual runs, including Oran, Africa where he had a special ring made to commemorate the event. His first service was aboard the SS Bret Harte. He was aboard on April 1, 1944 when the Bret Harte was part of convoy UGS-36. The convoy came under attack by a bunch of Do-217's for about 20 minutes. The SS Jared Ingersoll took a torpedo in the forward hold and was the only ship damaged. While serving on the Bret Harte, he had an imaginary dog named "Leroy". He was always feeding, petting and talking to his imaginary dog in an unsuccessful attempt to make the captain think he was nuts. On day the captain pulled him aside and said "Calton, I don't mind you having a pet on board, but the next time your dog craps in my quarters you're going to be in big trouble!"

But his most memorable experience was aboard the SS Sacketts Harbor. On March 1, 1946, while enroute between Yokosuka and Balboa and about 800 miles southwest of Adak in the Aleutian Islands, the ship was caught between two wave crests and simply broke in two. No enemy fire...the ship just broke. As he tells it, the night the ship broke, he heard a "big bump" and all of the lights went out. He was aft and went running down the catwalk towards the front of the ship when all of a sudden he "ran out of ship"!

There were 10 men and 2 cats on the fore half, everyone else was in the aft half. The men on the fore half were concerned that if the cats got loose they could get lost or injured so they put them in a bureau drawer for safe keeping. Everyone assumed that since the aft half was heavier, it would sink first. To their amazement, the fore half began taking on water while the aft half remained afloat.

A Navy ship was dispatched to rescue them. A row boat was sent to pick up the men on the fore half and transfer them to the aft half. In the rush and confusion, the cats were forgotten and they became the only casualties. The rescue ship determined that the fore half would pose a hazard to navigation and their gunnery crew fired on it until it sank. The rescue ship attached a line to the aft half with the crew aboard and began to tow it to the nearest port in Alaska. The sea was very choppy and the Sacketts Harbor began to take on water. The Captain of the Sacketts Harbor requested the towing ship to either slow down or release them but the Captain of the towing ship refused. The Captain of the Sacketts Harbor then ordered his crew to cut the tow line. The Sacketts Harbor fired up it's engine, put it in reverse, and sailed into Adak under it's own power. It arrived in Adak on March 12 and was used as an electricity generating plant for a while. It was later towed to Anchorage. In 1957 a new fore half was built for the ship, it was re-christened and served as a wine tanker until at least 1970...first as the Angelo Petri and later as the Californian. She has since disappeared from the ship's registry and her ultimate fate is a mystery.

When the Korean Conflict came about, Jim tried to enlist in the Army, but they turned him down for being too old (25), having flat feet, and who knows what else. Two months later they drafted him! He served as an artillery observer with the 1st Cavalry.

He currently resides in Atchison, KS with his wife of over 25 years, Joan. He can be reached via his eldest son Joe at "jcalton@swbell.net".

James Oliver Calton, Jr.

Forward portion of Sacketts Harbor

After portion of Sacketts Harbor

Evacuation of Sacketts Harbor

Forward portion of Sacketts Harbor going under

The Rescue Ship

James Oliver Calton, Jr. in Korea

Click to see a Picture Carousel

Click to return to Home Page