WWII Merchant Marine Members Honored by… Russia

By Faye Higbee

Seventeen remaining WWII Merchant Marine members were honored with the Russian Medal of Ushakov. Russia recognized that if it hadn’t been for the Merchant Marines and their cargo deliveries to Murmansk, Kota, and Archangel, Russia might very well have fallen to the Nazis. Two of those who received the medals were Howard Pfeifer, left, and Mike Kemple.

Merchant Marine members are often forgotten as medal recipients, but the service was invaluable for the preservation of allied forces.

The Murmansk run – “The worst journey in the world.” Winston Churchill

Nazi U-boats were a major hazard in the world’s oceans during WWII. Merchant Marines on board what were known as “Liberty Ships” traversed wicked oceans and icy danger zones from 1941-1945 on what was known as the “Murmansk Run.”

Thousands of cargo ships, manned by tens of thousands of brave British, Canadian, and American civilian merchant mariners, along with Navy and Coast Guard personnel, made the hazardous voyages carrying invaluable supplies to America’s chief Allies—Great Britain and the Soviet Union—months before, and years after, the United States was propelled into the war on December 7, 1941.

The voyages across the North Atlantic and from Iceland to the Russian ports of Murmansk, Archangel, and Kola Inlet involved more hazards than in any other kind of naval duty. Severe weather was commonplace. Ice fields could be encountered at any time of year. Floating mines were a constant menace. German submarines, surface craft, and warplanes could strike at will from nearby bases in German-occupied Norway. And, prior to the spring of 1943, when an effective Allied antisubmarine offensive got underway, ships and men making the so-called “Murmansk Run” had about one chance in three of returning.

Warfare History Network

Liberty Ships – cargo ship that helped win the war

Liberty Ships were created under President Roosevelt’s “Emergency Ship Building” program. They were ugly, slow, and not well built. With around 800 ships in 41 convoys on the Murmansk run, 100 ships were destroyed by “German attacks, mines, storms and accidents.” According to Stars and Stripes, enough supplies made it through that it eventually turned the tide for Russia. (Note: Murmansk is on the Barents Sea in the North Atlantic). Russia was grateful.

Russia sent 17 medals to the remaining Merchant Marine members. The original plan was for a ceremony to honor them, but the pandemic wrecked those plans. The Russian embassy sent the medals to them. In the case of Pfeiffer and Kemple, Captain Scott Nowak received them for the Three Rivers Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans. The Ushakov medal is named for “Adm. Fyodor Ushakov, the patron saint of the Russian Navy famous for never losing a battle.”


Featured photo: Screenshot via YouTube of a Liberty Ship

Sign up for our Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children newsletter and check out our shop while you’re there! Our website link has been censored on Facebook and Instagram, so be sure to visit us on the web or TwitterParler, and Me We for our op-eds on the news. Our new Instagram account is here. Please note that Parler is currently off line, and the Instagram account is brand new as of January 13. Yes, Facebook-Instagram took us down again. Please share the new account.