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Survival, Bravery, & Brutality

William Flury, Steward Department

SS Jean Nicolet, 1944

Historical Context

Merchant ships and seamen were critical to the outcome of World War II in the Pacific. Convoys of merchant ships transported machinery, equipment, munitions, food, troops, and supplies across the Pacific to the Philippines, Okinawa, and other areas of invasion. Many ships and lives were lost to Japanese aircraft, torpedoes, and artillery.

The SS Jean Nicolet was carrying supplies for “the Burma Road.” This refers to the road that connected Lashio in Burma (now Myanmar) to Kunming in China, an essential lifeline for the Nationalist Chinese government’s defense against Japan.

During wartime, there are always incredible acts of survival, bravery and brutality. Listen carefully to William Flury, who in 1944 was an 18-year-old cook working in the Steward Department, as he recounts the attack and sinking of the Liberty Ship SS Jean Nicolet on July 2, 1944, you will find examples of each.

Instructions

These questions are based on the accompanying primary sources. They are designed to help you practice working with historical documents. Some of these documents have been edited, but all are authentic. As you analyze the documents, take into account the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document.

Download the student worksheet for William Flury. (PDF)

Questions

  1. Citing evidence from the words of William Flury and one supporting primary source, list two acts of survival, two acts of bravery, and two acts of brutality from his experiences in the Indian Ocean.
  2. Based on a close examination of the poster and a review of William Flury’s oral history, what is the significance of the shark image on the submarine, and what effect do you think it would have on Merchant Mariners who saw it?

Supporting Primary Sources

A Japanese submarine is shown in the foreground. Posters like this were produced to warn merchant ships of wartime dangers and remind them to take precautions at sea.

Poster for Thirteenth Naval District, United States Navy, showing smoke coming from smokestack of a cargo ship.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Japanese Slew Torpedo Victims.

New York Times, March 7, 1945

Additional Primary & Secondary Sources

Transcript

Glossary

  • Listing—to tilt to one side; especially of a boat or ship
  • Conning tower—a raised structure on the deck of a submarine used especially formerly for navigation and attack direction
  • Swell—a long often massive and crestless wave or succession of waves often continuing beyond or after its cause (as a gale)
  • Sub Chaser—a small maneuverable patrol or escort vessel used for antisubmarine warfare
  • Aft—near, toward, or in the stern of a ship
  • Starboard—the right side of a ship or aircraft looking forward
  • Out of Kilter—not in the proper or usual state or condition
Oral History
  • Listen to William Flury