Richard Anderson

[ Age 84 ] The laboratory technician and World War II veteran helped to restore the Liberty ship `John W. Brown.'

"We were often under attack by German planes on the sea or in ports, London to Africa," he said.

April 29, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Richard Lee Anderson, a retired laboratory technician and World War II merchant seaman who helped restore the Liberty ship John W. Brown, died Saturday of complications from a stroke at his Parkville home. He was 84.

Mr. Anderson, who was known as Richard or Richie, was born in Baltimore and raised near Clifton Park. After graduating from City College in 1942, he received an appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y.

Because of the wartime necessity of merchant mariners, Mr. Anderson went to sea in January 1943, after only attending the academy for three months, as a cadet aboard the former Moore-McCormack passenger line S.S. Argentina, which had been converted into a troop carrier.

On his first voyage, the ship delivered 5,000 soldiers to North Africa.

"We picked up Italian prisoners of war in North Africa and brought back our wounded -- amputees and shell-shocked troops. I can't forget that. The deck had padded cells for these sick guys," Mr. Anderson told Ernest F. Imhoff, a former Sun editor and author of The Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown 1942-2006.

"Yet there was another story," Mr. Anderson added in the interview. "When we got out to sea, the POWs and Americans gathered together, the best of friends. Just a week before, they were shooting at each other."

After a second round-trip voyage to North Africa, Mr. Anderson, who rose from deck cadet to third mate, boarded the Liberty ship S.S. Thomas Kearns for a trip to the Russian port of Murmansk.

Convoys on what became known as the Murmansk Run faced the threat of constant enemy attack and some of the most treacherous ocean weather in the world as they attempted delivery of war materiel to the Eastern Front through Murmansk and Archangel.

"We brought engines and tanks," Mr. Anderson said in the interview. "A very cold trip. Wasn't much there in Murmansk. All bombed out. Lots of snow. While we were there, German planes raided and fired at the city and the waterfront. Guns were shooting everywhere, noise like the Fourth of July."

In 1998, Mr. Anderson returned to Murmansk as one of 35 retired merchant seamen -- including Russian seamen -- who were guests of the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation.

Mr. Anderson said he was surprised to still see wartime ship wrecks littering the shore of the harbor.

In March 1944, he sailed aboard the Liberty ship S.S. Joaquin Miller for the neutral port of Laurenco Marques on the East Africa coast to pick up a cargo of coal for Bari, Italy.

"We drank in the bars, and we could see the German and the Japanese there, but we couldn't fraternize with them," he told Mr. Imhoff. "You knew they knew our ship and could tell their U-boats when we were leaving."

Mr. Anderson recalled how frequently the ships faced danger.

"We were often under attack by German planes on the sea or in ports, London to Africa," he said. "The planes came right at us, and I could see the black spots on our ship when they shot at us and I asked myself, `Is this my last breath?'

"Our planes fired back. U-boats came near our convoys and sank ships but not mine. So many men didn't return from the war. You never forget how lucky you are. You think of them."

Mr. Anderson was third mate aboard the Liberty ship SS Leopold Damrosch when the war ended in Europe. Reassigned to the Pacific and out of food, the ship sailed for Newport News, Va.

"We got home in Newport News in June 1945, and I ate plenty of vegetables." Mr. Anderson said. "The war was over for me."

After the war, he continued sailing as chief mate for the Isthmian Lines and aboard Esso tankers until 1948.

Mr. Anderson worked at Montgomery Ward, Esso Oil Co. and as shipping foreman at American Smelting Co. He was laboratory quality control officer at his retirement in 1982.

In 1999, Mr. Anderson returned to the sea as a volunteer and ordinary seaman aboard the John W. Brown, where he chipped paint, repaired fixtures and stood wheelhouse watches when the ship was under way.

"Richie was a great guy," said Frank J. Schmidt, the Brown's acting chief mate and a retired merchant marine and Navy officer. "He worked the hardest, and you had to hold him back. Anything you gave him to do in deck work on the Brown, he did. Friendly, willing and able. He was a first-class volunteer."

Each day, Mr. Anderson and his wife of 39 years, Gertrude S. "Trudy" Schneider, a retired Sunpapers credit supervisor, flew the American and merchant marine flags at their Harris Avenue home.

Mr. Anderson was a 50-year member of St. John's Lutheran Church of Parkville, 8808 Harford Road, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Also surviving are a son, David Anderson of San Diego; a daughter, Karen Lee Kern of White Marsh; a stepson, Douglas Maeser of Joppa; a stepdaughter, Cheryl Baldwin of Lynchburg, Va.; and four grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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