My Uncle Mac and the Supply Chain

Kevin O'Toole, former senator from the 40th Legislative District, says that being a public servant in NJ was an honor, he does not miss being in Trenton's political arena.

Since the first run on toilet paper, there has been a lot of talk of empty shelves at supermarkets, rationing of certain items purchased, and an increasing focus on our country’s supply chain during this pandemic.

Before this crisis, I would venture to say that very few had given any level of thought (forget gratitude) to how products, supplies, food or medical items would find their way into our homes and businesses.

What a difference a pandemic makes!

We are all now a bit more aware, and hopefully grateful for those workers who are responsible for the manufacturing, construction and preparation of much needed goods, food, and medical supplies. It is also striking just how fragile this economic system is and how any ripple could paralyze our nation. We include in this ring of immense gratitude the essential workers who load and unload trucks, ships, railcars and we extend this warm embrace to those who get the end product to our doorstep or kitchen table.

This recent catharsis got me thinking about my Uncle Mac and his days as a Merchant Marine. Few of my generation even know what a Merchant Marine is or does. My Uncle Mac, Charles McWilliams Jr., who passed away, served in the Merchant Marines during World War ll. I used to hear stories from him about his days during the War. Little was known about these mostly civilian warriors. They worked the supply ships that kept our allies and troops fed and stocked with supplies. These largely unarmed ships had a sole purpose to bring tons of food, materials and other supplies to the front lines of the War. It was very dangerous. Between eight and twelve thousand of these civilians died, about 4% of their total. Over 1,550 ships were lost at sea due to torpedoes or attacks from the Germans or others.

As was told by my Uncle, the supply lines were very much part of this country’s war effort. During the War, the Federal government designated the Merchant Marines as an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy. As foreshadowing of what was to come, over 17 Merchant Marine ships were sunk BEFORE the War even started. The S.S. City of Rayville was sunk in November 1940 off the coast of Australia, and the S.S. Robin Moore was torpedoed by a German U-boat in May of 1941.

Given that right now most of us, out of an abundance of caution, are not stepping foot in retail stores, and instead are signing into our Amazon accounts to make purchases that are delivered to our doorstep; how can we forget about appreciating those who make up our supply chain?

For the next generation, it shouldn’t take a war or pandemic to appreciate the sacrifices of others that make life so amazingly beautiful for the rest of us.

Lastly, with an eye toward Memorial Day, to all those who have served and are serving our country, and their families, no amount of words can justly express our level of gratitude for what you have sacrificed — THANK YOU!

P.S.  Since all things in N.J. politics come full circle: When my Uncle Mac returned from his days in the Merchant Marines, he was a proud union member of Local 68, working at Merchant Refrigeration on Emmet Street in Newark – his boss was John J. Giblin, the father of Assemblyman Tom Giblin.

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