Honor Roll: Joseph T. Winn Jr., Merchant Marine

This post is about Joseph T. Winn Jr. (1923 – 1943), the second Merchant Marine seaman to lose his life to a U-boat attack.

Joseph was not a native of Milton, nor of Delaware; he was born in Pinal, Arizona, to Joseph T. Winn Sr. and Marcia Darlington Lovett Winn. Marcia was a native of Pennsylvania, while Joseph Sr. had deep roots in Texas and the Southwest. Joseph Jr.’s paternal great-grandparents were Texas pioneers with colorful stories that included attacks by Comanche raiding parties and ambushes. Joseph Sr. lived the life of a Texas rancher until his death in 1956.

The marriage of Joseph Jr.’s parents did not endure; by 1930 Marcia and Joseph Sr. had divorced, and she and her son were living in Ocean View, DE with her mother Bertha, a high school teacher. Five years later the three were living in Milton; by 1940, Marcia had become a home economics teacher in the Milton School and was the head of the household.

Tome School (courtesy Wikipedia.org)

Joseph Jr. was for a time a boarding student at the Tome School in Port Deposit, MD. It is unclear how long he attended Tome School or whether he graduated, but by late 1942 he had signed on to the Merchant Marine. In October of that year, he married 19-year old Josephine Eleanor (“Joy”) Reed, a Milton girl. We don’t have a photograph of either Joseph or Joy, but we know from his draft registration information that Joseph was 6 feet tall, weighed 173 lbs., had red hair and blue eyes.

M. S. Atlantic Sun, built in 1941 for the Sun Oil Co. (courtesy uboat.net)

Joseph’s first posting was the M. S. Atlantic Sun, a tanker. As a rookie, he was given the job of “wiper,” the most junior position in the engine room, which involved cleaning (“wiping”) the engines and assisting with other tasks given him by more senior personnel.

On February 15, 1943, the Atlantic Sun was 150 miles offshore of Cape Race, Newfoundland, bound for Reykjavik, Iceland, empty except for water ballast. She was part of convoy ON-165. The following account of the torpedoing of the ship is excerpted from uboat.net.

The Atlantic Sun (Master William B. Longtin) had developed engine trouble and straggled from convoy ON-165. At 10.00 hours on 15 February 1943 the tanker tried to catch up with convoy when struck by two torpedoes from U-607 on the port side about 150 miles off Cape Race. The first torpedo split the ship in half abaft the midships house and the other blew a large hole in the bow. The forward section sank in 20 minutes. The after section appeared sound enough to be taken into port under power. After the ship broke in two, 22 men led by the chief officer abandoned the after section. They returned two hours later and re-boarded the after part of the ship, going below to change clothing. 30 minutes later, with the men still below, a third torpedo from U-607 struck near the stern post, causing the stern to sink 30 minutes later.

After the hit a lifeboat with eight men cleared the ship half-swamped and without oars. Others went over the side into the sea just before the ship turned over keel up and sank. The ordinary seaman William Golobich was taken prisoner by the U-boat, landed at St. Nazaire on 9 March and eventually taken to the POW camp Marlag und Milag Nord. Those who remained behind faced moderate seas and 25° weather. None of the ten officers, 36 crewmen, 20 armed guards (the tanker was armed with one 5 inch, one 3 inch and eight 20mm guns) and one passenger on board survived, except the man who had been taken prisoner.

Joseph T. Winn Jr. as well as the other crewmen were official categorized as MIA, but that status was not communicated to his wife and his mother until six weeks later. The remains of the crew were never recovered and all were presumed dead.

Frank Zebley, in his 1948 book Churches of Delaware, relates that Marcia Winn presented a church flag and an American flag to the St. John the Baptist P. E. Church in the Wilderness on Dec. 1, 1946 in memory of her son. This was also reported in the Milford Chronicle. Other tributes to the Milton war dead were made, with Joseph T. Winn’s name included. Marcia died in 1951, and the death notice indicated that she had been in failing health since her son’s death in WWII.

Joy Reed Winn carried on with her life, attending college and bonding with her mother-in-law, but she died in her father’s garage in 1948 at the age of 25. A coroner’s inquest was held, but the results were not made public, and thus one is left to speculate on what happened. It is fair to say, however, that Joseph’s death had a devastating impact on the two women in his life.


Churches of Delaware, Frank Zebley
Milford Chronicle, 1943 – 1951

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