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Service pays homage to mariners who died in WWII attack

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Olaf Olsen was just a teenager in 1942 when he was called to pilot a boat carrying the captains of the Esso Baton Rouge and the Texas tanker Oklahoma.

He was taking them out to the site where their ships were torpedoed off the coast of St. Simons Island by a German U-boat.

The ships went down on April 8, 1942, a day Olsen remembers well because it made it clear just how serious World War II had become in the days before round-the-clock media coverage.

"It really let a lot of people here know we were at war," Olsen said.

Of the 22 men who died, five were so badly burned they were unidentifiable and their remains were buried in Palmetto Cemetery in Brunswick.

Olsen attended a memorial service at city cemetery Wednesday, National Maritime Day, to remember the five merchant mariners killed in the attacks.

Their names had remained unknown until October 1988, when Michael Higgins tracked down their identities. On May 22, 1999, a little more than 57 years after the attack, a headstone for the formerly unknown merchant mariners was placed at Palmetto Cemetery to honor their service.

Arlie McNeilll, a member of the Navy League, spoke at Wednesday's memorial service, which was put on by the Golden Isles Maritime Club.

"People could see the flames on shore from the fire where the torpedo hit the ships," McNeill said.

After the mariners were identified, the family of one, Charles Rivette, came to Brunswick from Louisiana to place a marker memorializing him.

"It tickles me to death to know they were able to find some closure," McNeill said.

He said he hopes families of the other mariners will one day do the same.

The other four men buried at the site are Alfredo Carmona, Joseph Geary, Arthur Genter and Osswald Ryder.

A memorial marker for all 22 who were killed in the attacks can be found at the Old Glynn County Courthouse on G Street in downtown Brunswick.
 

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