Brookline War Memorial
Ernest M. Galko

Gunners Mate Ernest M. Galko
U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy (1941-1947)

United States Merchant Marine (1775-present)    United States Navy (1775-present)

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 submarine.

Sinking ship in the crosshairs of a German periscope.

"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.

Ernest M. Galko
Ernest Galko

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.

A Liberty Ship of the US Merchant Marine.
US Merchant Marine Liberty Ship in 1945.

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."

USS Tarawa (CV-40) - 1946
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 community.

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 *

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Ernest M. Galko

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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Brookline Veteran's Park - April 26, 2014.

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