Kellegrew, Thomas

Thomas Kellegrew

Born: October 22, 1921
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: May 19, 1943 /At Sea
Date / Place of burial: May 22, 1943 / Stellawood
Cemetery Durban, SouthAfrica
Date Unknown / North Africa American Cemetery, Carthage,
Tunisia, Plot H, Row 18, Grave 5
Age: 21

 

September 17, 1942 at Wilmington, NC where the ship had been built. His Academy
classmate Herman E. Rosen (Deck) also signed on at Wilmington, NC before the ship
sailed to load cargo in New York for its maiden voyage. In New York Cadet-
Midshipmen Morton Deitz (Deck) and Jack Stadstad (Engine) joined the ship.

The John Drayton sailed on October 12 from New York bound for Abadan, Iran loaded
with a general cargo of military supplies including canned goods, ammunition, tanks
and aircraft. From January 31 to April 1, 1943 the John Drayton discharged and loaded
cargo at several ports in Iran. On April 4 the ship sailed from Bandar Abbas for Cape
Town. With the exception of the first two days, the John Drayton was not escorted.

On the evening of April 21, 1943 the John Drayton was approximately 275 miles east of
Durban, South Africa when its luck ran out. According to the Navy report on the
sinking, the ship came under attack at 1700 GCT when the crew reported seeing
torpedoes miss the ship. The maintained its speed but was zig-zagging around its
original course. Later that evening the ship turned to evade what appeared to be a
surfaced submarine. Upon returning to course another torpedo, later determined to
have been fired by the Italian submarine “Leonardo Da Vinci”, struck the John Drayton
on the starboard side at #3 Lifeboat, destroying the engines and killing the men on
watch, including Cadet-Midshipman Stadstad. Cadet-Midshipman Morton Deitz stated
in his report,

“A large gaping hole was blown in the hull, demolishing the #3 boat, and
since the torpedo hit about at the generator platform in the engine room,
all lights were blown out. Immediately after the explosion of the torpedo,
the “abandon ship” signal was given from the bridge and all hands
proceeded to their respective boat stations. The crew of the #3 boat was
ordered to distribute themselves among the remaining boats.”

Cadet-Midshipman Rosen was actually assigned to boat #4, but because he left his
station to collect clothing and a blanket from his cabin he was accidentally left aboard.
His only option was to jump into the water and swim for the #2 boat which would
contain Cadet-Midshipmen Deitz, Kellegrew and twenty-one other survivors. The men
in the #1 and #4 boats were all rescued within a week of the sinking.

However, the voyage of the John Drayton’s #2 boat started out poorly and never
recovered. The two Deck Officers aboard, the Chief Mate and Third Mate, were unable
to effectively command the boat due to illness and their injuries. Gale force winds
prevented the survivors from raising its sail until the next morning when they attempted
to set course for Durban. After six days of stormy weather the boat capsized, resulting
in the loss of everything aboard, including the survivor’s food, water and clothing. By
what Rosen described as a “miracle of seamanship” the boat was righted and bailed
out by the twenty-four men. For the next three weeks they were, in Rosen’s words,

“wet and frozen by night and baked and thirsty by day.”

After the capsizing the survivors, including the two deck officers, began dying, mainly
due to drinking sea water. Eventually command of the boat fell upon Cadet-
Midshipman Rosen although he “. . . felt immature and unequal to the task.” Unknown
to Rosen and the other survivors, the search for the John Drayton’s life boat had been
called of on May 8. Cadet-Midshipman Thomas Kellegrew died in Herman Rosen’s
arms just hours before they were rescued on May 20 by the Greek freighter SS Mount
Rhodope. At that point the boat was just twenty miles from land, but contained only
eight survivors, of which three later died in the hospital.

Cadet-Midshipman Thomas Kellegrew was posthumously awarded the Mariner’s Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Pacific War Zone bar,
Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the Presidential
Testimonial Letter. Although he was initially buried in Durban on May 22, 1943,
Thomas Kellegrew’s final resting place is in the North Africa American Cemetery in
Carthage, Tunisia. Two other Kings Pointers, Otto E. Kern, Jr. and Niles Stevens, are
buried in the same cemetery. The name of another Kings Pointer, Frederick Whitehead
is inscribed on the Cemetery’s list of those lost at sea.

Thomas Kellegrew was the only son of Alexander R. Kellegrew, an attorney, and
Adelaide Kellegrew. His sister, Joyce, who was four years younger, traveled to Europe
in 1938 with her parents while Thomas, apparently, had to stay in school.

Herman Rosen, wrote a moving account of the loss of the SS John Drayton in his book,
“Gallant Ship, Brave Men”. In October 2004 he said,

“Tom Kellegrew, Engine Cadet aboard S.S. John Drayton was popular
aboard our ship. He was always pleasant and eager to do more than his
share. He stood extra watches in the Engine Room when the Third
Assistant Engineer was ill. He was often praised by the Chief Engineer
for his dedication. Tom hoped to make a career of the sea. In our
Lifeboat he rowed until his hands blistered. He was constantly cheerful,
expecting rescue day after day. He boosted morale! He was my buddy
and died in the lifeboat on the 30th day, only hours before our rescue.”

“Tom’s mother visited me while I was hospitalized at Staten Island, NY.
She insisted on giving me his pocket watch engraved “TK” which I have
and treasure to this day!”

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