Seaman S1C Elmer E. Braundmeier, originally of Alhambra, served in the U.S. Navy Armed Guard on the Liberty Ship William Pierce Frye and was killed on March 29, 1943, south of Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. His wife, Mrs. Roberta Lucille Braundmeier, was living at 1312 Walnut St. in Highland. The six city blocks from Broadway through 13th Street and west from Laurel to Mulberry streets had the most casualties of any area of Highland. (Elmer’s family information and about his late sister Ardell Braundmeier (Mrs. James Winter Sr.) of Highland, will follow in this column.)
Elmer Braundmeier of Alhambra, joined the Navy and after basic training was assigned to the Merchant Marines and a new Liberty Ship, which was a cargo ship built beginning in 1942 during World War II and launched on Feb. 11, 1943, at the Portland Maine Iron Works. She was christened William Pierce Frye, her gross tonnage was 7,175 and she was on her maiden voyage. Many sailors called these ships “The Ugly Ducklings of the Sea” because of their looks.
The William Pierce Frye set sail from New York and was with 40 other ships in a convoy, headed for Liverpool, England, via Halifax, Nova Scotia. She carried in her hold No. 1 wheat, and the other holds all had military stores, 750 tons of explosives, along with several landing craft lashed to her deck. She had a Merchant Mariners crew of 40 and a Navy Armed Guard contingent of 24 men. Elmer was one of those Armed Guards, who manned the ships guns.
The convoy was making slow progress because of the ice and their zigzag course. On March 28, 1943, at 11:23 a.m. they experienced engine trouble and had to stop their engines to make repairs. She is now a “lame duck” and at the same time the voyage turns into a hurricane force wind. And the greatest problem was that this was the German U-boats area. At 18:40 hours while making repairs, a U-boat was coming up behind them but didn’t realize they were stopped, fired two torpedoes, and missed. The German U-boat came under an aircraft attack by the British Royal Air Forces. The German U-boat suffered moderate damage but kept on her U-boat patrol.
The Willian Pierce Frye was underway again after repairs and was making 12.5 knots, using the zigzag pattern. As the afternoon light began to fade, the German U-boat was at her station waiting for her prey. At almost midnight, the German U-boat sighted the Frye and fired a torpedo, hitting the Frye on her starboard side. The torpedo tore into the cargo hold No. 1, where the wheat was stored. This cushioned the original blow. Four minutes later, the U-boat’s second torpedo hit just forward of mid-ship. She went down fast, bow first, in less than 5 minutes, into the cold North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland.
The British destroyer HMS Shikuri’s radio operator heard William Pierce Frye’s Ensign Dalbey’s SOS and their ship went looking for survivors. Only seven survivors made it to the one landing craft that had been secured on the deck of the Frye as the ship was sinking. The seven survivors made it to the landing craft in high seas with little, to no light, except the light made by the oil fires that were burning on the surface of the stormy waters. The seven survivors were able to make small fires with small scraps of wood in the engine room of the landing craft and they had five carrots for food and no fresh water. Six days, later the seven Frye survivors were rescue by the British destroyer HMS Shikuri, which had heard the original SOS. The Frye survivors were transported to Londonderry, Ireland, and then were shipped back to New York.
The seven survivors were Chief Engineer Ensign Benjamin Barrett of East Boston, S1C Signalman Armed Guard Howard Bauer, GM3C Gunners Mate Armed Guard Walker B. Elder, a radioman and three Filipino ships stewards. (Do any of these men have any additional columns or stories written about their terrible experiences? Contact me at 618-654-5005 if you have any information.)
I also was in World War II, spending 16 months in the South Pacific. First on the island of New Caledonia, where we new replacements met our new howitzer battalion. After two months of additional training, we took the Dutch troop ship Bosch Fontain to the Philippine Islands. First to Leyte Island, where we saw action, which the Army, called maneuvers, because they didn’t want the folks back home to know what we were really doing. Then after the dropping of the two atomic bombs, we were sent to Luzon Island, Philippines, to Manila No. 1 Station Hospital on Rizol Avenue. There, we interviewed our American POWs who had been in Japanese prison camps, recovered and had been flown to Manila. After all of the POWs had been processed, we continued to discharge the Philippine Army personnel until early April 1946, when I returned by boat to San Francisco, and then sent to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., where I was discharged Easter Sunday, April 21, 1946.)
Elmer had five sisters, Mabel (Frank) Holcman, Alhambra; Orlean (Rodney) Johnson; Dorothy (Kenneth) Allen, Alhambra; Janet (Dale) Bloemker, Alhambra; and Ardell (James) Winter Sr., Highland, who died in 2001; and three brothers, Leonard, who died at age 15; Harding (Ethel) Braundmeier, former Highland chief of police and my classmate at Alhambra; and Roland W. Braundmeier, former barber of Collinsville, who died in 2010. (My thanks to Elmer’s deceased sister, Ardell Braundmeier, Mrs. James Winter Sr. family, James Winter Jr. and Tony and his wife Sheila Winter of Highland, for gathering Elmer’s information.)