Hercules Esibill, 81

Seaman, car salesman

December 11, 2006

Hercules P. Esibill, a retired car salesman and World War II merchant seaman who survived two shipwrecks, died of pneumonia Tuesday at Northwest Hospital Center. The Catonsville resident was 81.

Mr. Esibill was born and raised in Millville, N.J., the son of a boatyard owner. He dropped out of high school in 1942 and went to sea as a wiper on the Mercury, an oil tanker. The ship was sunk later that year by a German U-boat near Cuba.

During World War II, he sailed in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea. While aboard the Lancaster, the ship came under attack by German aircraft. The ship hit rocks near Casablanca and broke up.

By war's end, Mr. Esibill had served on seven Liberty ships. He retired from the sea in 1950 but returned to it during the Korean War.

In 1953, he left the merchant marine and went to work for a Kaiser-Frazier auto dealership in Baltimore; he later joined A.D. Anderson Chevrolet. After working as a sales manager, he returned to selling. In 1963, he sold 329 vehicles. "That was better than one each business day," he told Ernest F. Imhoff, a retired Sun editor and author of Good Shipmates, an oral history of the Liberty ship John W. Brown.

Outgoing and personable, one of Mr. Esibill's favorite pieces of advice was "Keep a level bubble."

In 1967, Mr. Esibill and his wife, the former Karen Smithson, founded an auto leasing business that they operated until they retired in 1985.

Mr. Esibill began volunteering in 1992 aboard the John W. Brown, and later became the vessel's purser and secretary of Project Liberty Ship, which owns and operates the ship. He stepped down from those positions last year.

An avid Colts fan, Mr. Esibill was the founder of Colts Corral No.4. He was also a member of the Elks for 60 years and a former president of the Catonsville Optimist Club. He was also active in local Democratic campaigns.

Plans for a celebration of his life were incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 39 years, survivors include a son, John Crowell of Glen Burnie; and two grandsons. An earlier marriage to Rosemary Wiley ended in divorce.

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