Cecil Brown remembered by family for service to country in the Merchant Marines
by Bain Serna
Nov 11, 2012 | 2244 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Betty Jean Brown, widow of Cecil E. Brown, holds his WWII memorial plaque.
Betty Jean Brown, widow of Cecil E. Brown, holds his WWII memorial plaque.
Cecil E. Brown’s offcial 1957 discharge order from the United States Merchant Marines.
Cecil E. Brown’s offcial 1957 discharge order from the United States Merchant Marines.
“The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed in around me…”

-Book of Jonah

The once tranquil seas had morphed into a watery battlefield of savage combat during the bloody days of World War II (1939-1945). The dark shadow of tyranny was cast over the lands and oceans of the world by Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan as they ruthlessly pursued to dominate the globe by war.

Brutal warfare in the open seas of the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Oceans smashed the fabled serenity of the high seas, as the United States Navy and the United States Merchant Marine fleets were plunged into a fight to the death against Germany and Japan on the surface of the ocean waters.

World War II veteran Cecil E. Brown passed away last year on November 8, 2011 and was laid to rest in a quiet Kenedy cemetery on Veterans Day three days later.

He was buried at 11 p.m. He was buried on Veterans Day at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 2011. His family says it was not planned that way at all, but was rather just the timing of circumstances and fate.

During World War II, Cecil E. Brown served in the U.S. Merchant Marines, an often forgotten and overlooked branch of service. Brown’s life is an echo and a memorial to an era and a war that is growing more to the distant past as the years progress.

Brown was born on Feb. 22, 1930 and was raised in Kenedy. He saw his three older brothers ship off to war when America entered World War II after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He was only 11 years old at the time of America’s entry into the war.

Too young to enlist in the regular Armed Forces, Brown discovered that the Merchant Marines accepted 16-year-olds, and would accept certain 15-year-olds if they had parental consent. Brown persuaded his mother to sign the consent forms just shortly after his 15th birthday in 1945, the last year of the war. In a short time, Brown was off to sail the battle-ravaged seas, a young boy in a man’s war.

“There just wasn’t anything for him here in town; Kenedy was a very dull place back then,” recalled Brown’s widow and Kenedy resident Betty Jean Brown. “Boys of older age were going off to war, but he wasn’t old enough to, though he eventually found a way. He loved to be out on the water. He told me how he would stand out on the ship deck at night and watch the sea.”

The U.S. Merchant Marines are made up of civilian sailors and civilian transport ships that transport passengers and cargo through navigable waters in times of both peace and war. According to federal law, in times of war, the Merchant Marines act as an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy and are used to augment U.S. naval forces, and Merchant mariners are given the status of military personnel.

The Merchant Marines in World War II were the backbone the enormous task of shipping the millions of tons of supplies and war materiel needed for the U.S. and her Allies to fight a global war. Military vehicles, tanks, weapons, ammunitions, medical supplies, food, military personnel, and much more were moved by Merchant Marine ships across the dangerous waters of ocean warfare to supply the fighting forces on land.

Merchant Marine sailors faced death, injury, and sinking at every turn from enemy war planes, enemy battleships, enemy submarines, torpedoes, sea mines, Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots, and land-based artillery from enemy coasts.

Mariners faced all the dangers the war had to offer and actually engaged in combat, as the merchant marine ships were eventually armed on the deck with anti-aircraft guns and high-powered machine guns that most mariners were trained to use and very often did.

By the war’s end, as many as 250,000 merchant mariners had served. Of that number, over 8,650 died or became missing due to enemy and combat action, and 12,000 were wounded. 1,554 merchant marine ships were sunk by enemy attack or sea mines. 630 mariners were captured and became prisoners of war (POW) and were sent to POW camps in Germany and in the occupied territories of the Japanese. Many mariner POWs died while in Japanese captivity due to starvation, disease, torture, and murder by their Japanese captors.

For decades after the war, the Merchant Marines were not recognized for their brave and meritorious service during World War II. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law that gave full military veteran status to merchant mariners that served in World War II, granting them all the full veteran benefits that were due them.

Cecil E. Brown survived the war and stayed on in the Merchant Marines until 1957. He married Betty Jean in Kenedy in 1948 and they had seven children together. Now there are 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. After his years as a mariner, Brown found various work as an oil field worker, truck driver, ranch cowboy, and even was a musician in a band that played in venues around Karnes County.

Like so many war veterans of that era, Brown didn’t speak much about the war and kept his experiences mostly to himself.

“When he came back from the war he was like a stranger in a strange land,” said Betty Jean Brown of her husband. “He was very smart. He did a lot of things in life. I’m amazed at all the things he did.”

Brown’s family wants to see that men like him are properly remembered and honored for their service during the darkest chapter in human history, and that those who stood and fought for freedom during that time are given their due respect.

“I am very proud of what my father did and that he wanted to do it at such a young age,” said Brown’s daughter Billie Ann Brown. “That he was mature enough and in his right mind to do it says so much about him.”
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