Empire Ford of New Bedford photo.

Empire Ford of New Bedford’s “Veteran of the Month”: Edward Baker, served on the USS Hamilton in WWII

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During the month of May, the 56th Lights for Peace flag to fly at the Fort Taber – Fort Rodman Military Museum honors the memory Edward Alden Baker, of New Bedford, who served as Chief Engineer in the United States Merchant Marines who was killed on April 20, 1944, aboard the USS Hamilton while serving in WWII.

Unfortunately, there is very little information available on the background of Mr. Baker except that he was from New Bedford and that he served his country with honor in the United States Merchant Marines, eventually paying the ultimate sacrifice during WWII.

Baker served as the Chief Engineer aboard the USS Hamilton, which was named after Paul Hamilton, the third US Secretary of the Navy. The liberty ship left Chesapeake Bay, Virginia on her fifth voyage, on April 2, 1944, with a crew of 47 Merchant Marines, 29 Naval Armed Guards and 504 Army Air Force Troops. According to the United States Naval Memorial website, the troops were specifically trained in mine demolition. For more efficient shipping logistics, it had been decided to keep the men and their 7000 tons of explosives together in the same unarmored ship.


Empire Ford of New Bedford photo.

The USS Hamilton was bound for Bizerte, Tunisia, but on the evening of April 20, 1944, after dark, the reported 62 ships in the Mediterranean Sea, near Algiers, encountered a flight of 23 German JU-88 and HE-111 bombers which attacked the convoy.

According to the United States Naval Memorial website, “The first wave of German planes were met with no antiaircraft fire since they were initially reported as “friendlies” and it was only after they neared the convoy that the planes encountered gunfire. It has been speculated that a member of the American Liberty ship, the USS Paul Hamilton was the perhaps the first to detect the German planes as gunfire is known to have come from the ship as the planes approached.

This reportedly led one of the attackers to follow the tracers to the USS Paul Hamilton, which became the first target. When the ship was hit by the German aerial torpedo, the ship exploded and became the largest loss of life on a liberty ship during WWII.”

According to Wikipedia, when the aerial torpedo struck the Paul Hamilton and detonated the cargo of high explosives and bombs, the crew and passengers, who included 154 officers and men of the 831st Bombardment Squadron and 317 officers and men of the 32nd Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, were all lost. Of the 580 men aboard only one body was recovered.

As the massive explosion occurred, a combat cameraman on a nearby ship suddenly saw the sky turn from night to day and as the mushroom cloud rose up from what had been the USS Paul Hamilton, he snapped a picture which became famous, as within a month it was being published in newspapers as an example of the risks and carnage involved in getting supplies to the front.

According to the US Naval Memorial website, “The families of the USS Paul Hamilton sinking never knew the picture was of their loved ones as the details of the sinking remained classified for 50-years. Families were routinely told that their loved ones were ‘Missing in action, presumed dead, in the Mediterranean Theater.’ The facts of the disaster were hidden for many years as the government did not want to face the families and explain why a loaded troop ship also carried 7,000 tons of explosives and munitions.”

Baker was declared a casualty of World War II and received the following medals for his heroic service: Merchant Marine Mariner’s Medal, Merchant Marine Combat Bar, Merchant Marine Atlantic War Zone Medal, Merchant Marine Mediterranean War Zone Medal and the Merchant Marine WWII Victory Medal.

Linda Ferreira, of Empire Ford, researches the life histories of area residents. American flags are provided by Empire Ford. Flags are raised by the staff at Fort Taber – Fort Rodman Military Museum. Those who would like to honor a local veteran in the future can contact Ferreira at lferreira@empirefordinc.com.

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Empire Ford of New Bedford

395 Mt. Pleasant Street,
New Bedford, Massachusetts

Phone: (833) 974-0098
Email: kmathias@empirehyundai.com

Website: empirefordofnewbedford.com/
Facebook: facebook.com/Empirefordnewbedford

About Michael Silvia

Served 20 years in the United States Air Force. Owner of New Bedford Guide.

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