Howland man lived full life of adventure

Ralph McIntyre, 93, of Howland, an officer in the Merchant Marines during World War II, was aboard a vessel bound for Durban, on the east coast of South Africa. He was suddenly awakened by the sounding of the general alarm.

He jumped up, opened his porthole and was shocked by what he saw. There was a Nazi submarine on the surface close by his ship. It was every man to his station and “we got away,” McIntyre said.

The reason McIntyre was aboard this ship was that in early 1942, he had received officer’s training from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He had graduated as an ensign but had been quickly promoted to full lieutenant because of his previous experience on Great Lakes ore ships.

As a young man, he had needed money to go to college and had found work on Great Lakes ships, following in his father’s footsteps. While traveling south from Lake Superior, his vessel full of iron ore split amidships.

There was tremendous stress on the vessel’s hull because its length was approximately the same as the distance between two wave troughs. A sudden high wave amidships caused the ends to drop into the troughs, thereby splitting the ship to its waterline. They went into Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., immediately for temporary repairs, then down to River Rouge, south of Detroit, for permanent repairs, and McIntyre had made enough money to go to The Ohio State University for a semester.

McIntyre’s first trip as a Merchant Marine began on the west coast, where he boarded a Hog Islander, a slang name for a ship built on Hog Island, in the Delaware River near Philadelphia, the first shipyard ever built for mass production of ships.

McIntyre sailed from California, through the Panama Canal back to the East Coast. From then on, as chief engineer, he had major responsibilities on oil tankers and cargo ships, traveling to Liverpool, England; Haifa, Israel; the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea; and as far as Singapore.

One trip he made was on a cargo ship heading for the Persian Gulf. They docked at the port of Bushehr on the west coast of Iran. The cargo, destined for Russia, was a number of disassembled machine shops, foodstuffs and Lend-Lease Act items. The ship’s crew off-loaded it all onto a waiting freight train and accompanied it to the Russian border. There, they were ordered off the train and a typically authoritarian Russian crew took over.

McIntyre stayed in the Merchant Marines until nine months after the war ended in 1945. When he was discharged, he told me, he threw all his uniforms into the New York Harbor, a dramatic conclusion of his military service.

As a married civilian, McIntyre took a job in the Texas oil fields for three years. He and his wife wanted to be closer to relatives as they started their family. They returned to Ohio, where he joined Warren Tool Co. and retired from there as president.

Contact Thomas at bthomass@aol.com

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