Off Vero’s Beach: 1942


This is the tanker Java Arrow the morning after being torpedoed eight miles off Vero Beach. Photo courtesy of The Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia

During the early months of 1942, German submarines, unopposed, ravaged shipping lines along the Eastern Seaboard from New England to Florida. With the demands of a two-ocean war, the Navy and Coast Guard initially had few resources to defend against U-boats. In desperation, the Coast Guard Auxiliary was formed to fill the void. Volunteers in their yachts and fishing boats went offshore in Vero Beach to distract the U-boats and to rescue survivors. My father, Kit Johnson, was one of these volunteers.

The following is an excerpt from Different Battles, the Search for a World War II Hero, the author’s first book about two men: Kit Johnson, a boat owner
who rescued survivors from a tanker, and Peter Cremer, the U-boat commander who torpedoed the tanker.

I was eight years old. I stood outside the kitchen door in the warm, early-morning sunlight, a cigar box full of marbles in one hand and my book bag in the other, ready to head down the dirt road to catch the bus to Vero Beach Elementary School. I had said goodbye to my mother; my father was not home yet. 

That was unusual since, generally, before leaving for school, I would peek into their bedroom and see him snoring quietly. Mom wouldn’t say much about what he was doing every night other than he was out on his boat, the Kitsis, but I knew he wasn’t fishing.


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