Navy buddies, WWII vets reunite after 64 years

When Merrill J. Martin and Allen Lamm parted company in 1944, little did they know they would not see each other again for 64 years.

However, the long overdue reunion for these two World War II Navy veterans occurred in Barnwell April 23.

Lamm, 85, and Martin, 86, served together for 18 months aboard the PC-494, a small patrol vessel that escorted naval convoys to their destinations and protected them against enemy warships, particularly German submarines or U-boats.

These patrol craft were only 174 feet, 3 inches long and carried about 60 men but sailed the open sea.

"It was a rough little rascal to ride," Lamm said of the PC-494.

Those 18 months of escorting fuel and supply ships on runs between Trinidad and Recife, Brazil helped forge a friendship that would pass the test of time.

"I think as much of him now as I did then. I never had a cross word with him," Martin said.

When Lamm flew into Augusta Regional Airport, April 23, Martin recognized his old shipmate right off.

"I knew him when I first saw him when he was in the airport and he knew me," Martin said. "I grabbed his hand and said, ‘You've got to be Allen.'"

"He recognized me - I didn't see him until I got right up on him," Lamm said.

Lamm now lives in Pineville, La. and Martin lives in Barnwell.

Lamm served as a bosun's mate aboard the PC-494 and Martin was a gunner's mate.

With this duty, Martin was in charge of all explosives and pyrotechnics, "except the matches," aboard the boat, he said.

It was Martin who would set the depth at which a depth charge would detonate when the PC-494 was dropping these bombs on U-boats.

Depth charges are 410 pounds of TNT in a drum that when sunk to a preset depth, explode. The concussion is what causes the damage to any submarines in its blast area.

Martin remembers the PC-494 sank one U-boat and afterwards, they rescued the captain and two sailors from the German submarine. One German was still belligerent and tried to take a gun from a Navy sailor, he said.

"One of our boys wanted to shoot him," Martin said. "We thought the Germans were wicked."

After serving aboard the PC-494, Martin finished out the war serving aboard amphibious vessels that delivered tanks, equipment and troops for coastal assaults.

From being a bosun's mate aboard the PC-494, Lamm went on during the war to join the UDT or underwater demolition team as a frogman. Frogmen set underwater explosives to blow up obstacles or enemy fortifications, he said.

The UDT would later transform into its better known military acronym: SEALS (SEa, Air, Land) -- the elite fighting force of the Navy.

"All the SEALS had to go through the same training the frogmen went through," Lamm said.

Out of the 100 men that tried out for UDT, only 23 passed, including Lamm.

In recent years, Lamm has gone to several UDT reunions at the old base at Fort Pierce, Fla. where he was first trained and became a member of Team 21. Now the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum is located there. Each time he has gone, Lamm has noted the thinning ranks of World War II veterans.

"I don't see half the people I knew. They are dying off like flies," he said.

Likewise, Martin noted his generation's diminishing roll call of veterans.

"Ninety-five percent of all who served on patrol craft are dead," he said.

Patrol craft have often been called the "forgotten fleet" of the Navy during World War II because they didn't get the public attention that larger vessels like battleships and aircraft carriers received.

The two gentlemen only had sporadic communication with one another after they left the PC-494. A few telephone calls and letters, interspersed by years, were the only contact they had until Lamm's niece found where Martin lived several months ago.

"After she called him, I called him the next day and we were making plans," Lamm said.

Part of the problem in finding one another is that both men moved. Lamm relocated to Mississippi for 15 years. Martin moved to Barnwell in 1952 to work for the Savannah River Site but later moved to North Carolina for 27 years. He returned to Barnwell some years ago.

Both men are now widowers, each with two sons. Their weekend together in Barnwell was one of catching up on what has happened to them in the intervening years and many reminiscences.

"We've been talking about everything in general. I was so tickled he was coming," Martin said.