Gunners Mate Ernest M. Galko
U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy (1941-1947)
Ernest Michael Galko was born on June 22,
1922, to parents Mike and Elizabeth Galko, of Bethel Park. Ernie had seven sisters
(Elizabeth, Rose, Helen, Anna, Irene, Margaret and Louise) and one brother, Steve.
The Galko family moved to 2356 Edgebrook Avenue in Brookline in 1937.
Ernie Galko was just twenty years old when
World War II started. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor he joined the
Merchant Marines. His first sea duty was on a Liberty Ship that was sailing back
to port in the Gulf of Mexico. It suddenly was torpedoed and sunk by a German
"It happened so fast, and without warning,
that there was no time to put down the life boats. The guys in the engine rooms
were lost. We managed to get some wooden rafts into the water and we hung on
them for three days before we were rescued."
After that experience, Galko concluded
that sailing on an unarmed Merchant Marine Vessel wasn’t for him, so on July 16,
1942 he enlisted in the Navy. He went to Boot Camp in Newport, Rhode Island and
then to New York for Gunnery School.
The Navy, ironically, put him on another
Liberty Ship, the USS John Brown. This time, he and ninteen other Gunners Mates
manned three inch, four inch and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. All Liberty ships were
Merchant Marine so Ernie was technically back where he started.
His home port was Baltimore and each time
he returned, he was assigned to a new Liberty Ship. He went on to serve on the
USS Joshua Chamberlain, the USS B. F. Shaw, and the USS Sublette. His service
took him through the Panama Canal several times, down the coast of South America
to Cape Town, to ports in England, Russia, and the Middle East, dropping off war
materials and supplies along the way.
He delivered tanks and ammunition to
Normandy several days after the D-Day Europe invasion and recalls going ashore,
standing atop the cliffs and looking out at the amazing display of ships and
equipment on the beach.
US Merchant Marine Liberty Ship in
Galko also served in the South Pacific,
delivering supplies to Australia, the Philippines and several island destinations.
With the Japanese vigorously defending the approaches to their homeland, Galko
and his crewmates saw plenty of action.
He recalls, "We got to fire the guns a
lot with all the Japanese aircraft we saw."
Still active in the Pacific Theatre when
the atomic bombs were deployed, his thought was, "I gave President Truman credit
for having the guts to use them. Otherwise, we would have lost hundreds of
thousands of our boys invading mainland Japan."
The aircraft carrier USS Tarawa (CV-40)
underway shortly after commissioning
in early 1946. Planes of Carrier Air Group 4 are visible on deck.
His final assignment was on the aircraft
carrier USS Tarawa. Discharged on December 29, 1946, Ernie returned to Brookline,
married the girl across the street, and raised his family here. He still lives
in the house on Edgebrook Avenue that his parents bought when he was fifteen years
old. For years he worked at the Brookline Journal, where he was as a linotype
operator, his fingers on the pulse of everything happening here in the
Galko's only regret is that the crews of
the Merchant Marines have never received proper credit for their sacrifices and
bravery during the War. Although the Merchant Marine suffered a per capita casualty
rate greater than those of the U.S. Armed Forces, merchant mariners who served in
World War II were denied veterans recognition until 1988.
For the first time, Merchant mariners such
as Ernie Galko and fellow Brookliner Walter Meisner were officially given their long overdue recognition and properly honored
for their many sacrifices made in the cause of freedom and liberty. As Galko aptly
stated, "Without them the war would have been lost. This country owes
them a lot."
* Information from
The Brookline newsletter, January 2011 issue; Modified by Clint Burton -
September 7, 2019 *
Ernest Michael Galko passed
away on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Husband of the late
Pauline; father of Donna Conneely (John) of Etna, Joanne Galko-Unrath (Bob) of
Denver, CO, and the late Mary Audry; caring grandfather of Patrick Conneely
(Sarah), Sean Conneely and Brian Conneely; devoted brother of Louise
Hogel and seven other deceased brothers and sisters.
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