If you’ve read my first three posts, you know by now that I tend to seek out the obscure stories. Not wanting to disappoint the readers, I have chosen to go back to the World War II well of inspiration for this month’s featured mariner. While the story of the Japanese attacking the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 has become seared into American’s minds over the years, there is another remarkable story from that day that will be the focus of our attention.

The SS President Harrison, a ship under charter by the U.S. Navy, was underway on December 7th off the coast of China with orders to rescue the 4th Marines when she ran into the Japanese Imperial Navy. Despite knowing that war with Japan was imminent, the ship’s captain, Oriel Pierson, went ahead with his orders to rescue the Marines and was faced with the perilous decision to surrender or make a run for it. Not one for going quietly, Captain Pierson chose the latter and ordered his ship “full ahead” towards the nearest beach.

After she violently slammed onto shore, Captain Pierson took solace in the fact that the ship was now inoperable and thus, would be of no good use to the enemy. It took some time for the Japanese to realize this fact, but when they did, they took the ship’s crew prisoner.

On board the Harrison that day was a 55-year-old stewardess from Middletown, NY, named Clara Gordon Main, who also happened to be the only female crewmember.  As far as we know, the nearly 160 crewmembers, including Clara Gordon Main, were among the first U.S. prisoners of war (POW) during World War II. According to records kept by the de-facto website dedicated to the American Merchant Marine at War, Clara was eventually released in 1943, after spending nearly two years interned in the Chapei Camp near Shanghai. Her captain, Oriel Pierson, was not nearly as fortunate, as he remained in captivity until the war’s end.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this whole story is not necessarily the fact that the crew of the President Harrison became some of the first American POW’s, but that Clara distinguished herself and saved the life of a fellow crewmember that fateful day.

After her ship was purposely beached to avoid capture, but before the crew’s surrender to the Japanese, Clara had the incredible foresight to grab medical supplies from the ship’s hospital, should an emergency rise.

As fate would have it, Clara’s boss, Chief Steward J.L. McKay, was severely injured trying to escape from the ship when his lifeboat slammed into the ship’s propeller and caused him to break several ribs. Fortunately for McKay, Clara was there to help nurse him back to health over the ensuing six weeks. It was widely believed that if not for Clara’s medical supplies and diligent care, McKay would not have survived.

For these actions, Clara was recognized with the Meritorious Service Medal, which cited “Her calm and courageous attitude, and her skillful nursing” [Ibid] as inspiration to her crew and the entire United States Merchant Marine.

On the same day the Japanese gave the U.S. Navy a huge setback and ultimately forced the country into action, a little-known stewardess named Clara Gordon Main not only became one of the first American POW’s during World War II, but also went above and beyond the call of duty to save the life of her Chief Steward. Her courage in the face of the enemy was reflective of the ideals and gallantry of the entire American Merchant Marine during the war and makes it all the more astounding that Merchant Mariners have never been granted full veteran status and benefits.

In the years since World War II, Merchant Marine veterans and some members of Congress have attempted unsuccessfully to pass legislation granting full benefits to those who served in the maritime service. Unfortunately, many of the World War II veterans have since passed away and this indignation lives on in the eyes of many that want to see a wrong made right.

If you would like to honor the service of those merchant mariners, like Clara Gordon Main, that proudly served their country during WWII and were denied equality, please refer to the link below. I urge you to contact your local members of Congress and tell them of the complete disregard for one of the most valiant services of the war. Tell them the war would not have been won without this most important logistical arm. Most importantly, tell them the story of individuals like Clara Gordon Main.

Thanks for checking in for this month’s story and be sure to check back again for another featured mariner!


Andrew Zimmerman
About The Author: Andrew Zimmerman

Andrew Zimmerman is the author of the WWII narrative We Got Each Other Home: The Story of WWII’s Legendary LST (2013), which describes one of the most decorated and underrated ships of the entire war. As a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, he has experience on commercial ships and tugboats all over the world and also worked for several years in the Navy shipbuilding industry. Andrew, his wife and two boys live in New Philadelphia, Ohio, where he is a high school social studies teacher.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ferri sapientem sit in, nec et omnium animal voluptatum, eu sea dictas iisque nonumes. Epicuri torquatos usu te, ex vim consul pertinacia. Eum decore cetero at, partiendo interesset eam an. Eu ferri facer soluta est, duo in tation dolorem, nam eius reformidans accommodare ea. No vis eros appellantur, vis habemus maiestatis et. Nam ne veri epicurei, no mediocrem interesset accommodare vel. Putent labores alienum eum in, vidit ridens phaedrum sed in.

Vim unum voluptua et. Ius odio facete te, te sit justo explicari, cu feugait principes deseruisse nam. Menandri tractatos adolescens ei pro, cum id doming utamur. Rebum nominavi sit ne, sea veri intellegebat ei.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, vix in quem ceteros, cum causae animal scriptorem ex. Accumsan nominavi luptatum ne sea, id mutat nostro eos. At unum facete duo, mutat eripuit nec ne, nam pertinax salutatus adolescens ei. Laoreet tractatos suavitate sit ea, an has nibh soleat instructior.

Iusto nobis nam eu, ei vis munere vocibus persequeris, has adhuc omittam accumsan at. Modo aperiam vel no, prima vulputate sadipscing ne his. Dico cibo ad nec, quo te probo nostrum iracundia, ut munere alienum dolores eos. Te mea affert nonumes blandit. Commodo nusquam his cu, cu intellegebat definitionem eos.

Sed eu oporteat petentium, nec ei legere expetenda. Est no ridens admodum, oratio nostrud cum te. Erant incorrupte omittantur pro ne, mel idque nobis reformidans in. Sea at dolor regione voluptatum, per malorum epicuri ea. Assum eleifend ea eam, quis porro voluptaria ne nam. Est at utamur dolorum feugait.

Per modus praesent te, ea impetus viderer vel. Sea dolorum epicurei te, in vis honestatis scriptorem. Sea placerat inciderint definitionem et. Fierent accusamus per et, suas eripuit concludaturque sit an, cu cum constituam interesset. Meliore ocurreret vix an, autem malis postea.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

Duo in sanctus ornatus facilis, at autem omnesque mei, eos vidit ubique salutandi eu. Qui ad temporibus accommodare disputationi. Sit simul eleifend patrioque et. Te vero facilis sapientem quo, vis viderer docendi insolens ea, in prima instructior ius. Qui cu modo alienum iudicabit, vis cu vide fierent interpretaris.

An dicta denique usu. No sumo nobis utamur cum, oblique accusam in per. Dico indoctum ex pro. Commodo dissentiunt intellegebat te eum. Sumo volumus ex sit, magna justo lorem eu mei.

Stet laboramus elaboraret his no, vivendum hendrerit mei no, fuisset consequat duo in. Duo eu denique elaboraret, id vel vero graeci labore. Ex iisque percipitur cum, liber laoreet ex usu. His ex minim erroribus conclusionemque, cu dolorem iudicabit sea, ceteros scripserit voluptatibus usu in.

Cu option invidunt vix, harum tollit pri te, duis elitr insolens id eum. Te omnes patrioque ullamcorper ius. Ut per nobis signiferumque, vim no discere definitiones. Sit suas feugait dolores at, id eos nobis feugiat percipitur. Dolorem detraxit eos ad, intellegam theophrastus cum no. Ei adhuc semper persius qui, ignota bonorum alienum mei ea.

Ei pro ludus singulis adolescens, tale tota persequeris est ne. Cu ludus platonem molestiae mei. Erat porro an sed, ea facilisis gubergren vel. Pri at habeo mutat propriae.

Jane Smith

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, in duo sonet singulis, nam nihil voluptaria adipiscing ad, decore labores placerat no pro. Noluisse appareat te his, ea pri ceteros tincidunt. Eu vim iuvaret democritum, nisl diam oportere an nec, mei fugit nullam temporibus no. Veri conceptam at pro, omnes aperiri imperdiet cu quo. Mediocrem omittantur id per, ad eruditi ponderum vix.

Jane Smith

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, in duo sonet singulis, nam nihil voluptaria adipiscing ad, decore labores placerat no pro. Noluisse appareat te his, ea pri ceteros tincidunt. Eu vim iuvaret democritum, nisl diam oportere an nec, mei fugit nullam temporibus no. Veri conceptam at pro, omnes aperiri imperdiet cu quo. Mediocrem omittantur id per, ad eruditi ponderum vix.

Pin It on Pinterest