Maritime Monday – Peter Doran, and the Sinking of the Steel Voyager, 1943

Photo from City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 447-2724
Photo from City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 447-2724

From our family’s World War Two stories, one of the most memorable to me as a child was the story of Peter Doran (1926-2010) being adrift on a lifeboat for a week after his ship sunk. Soon after World War II was over, Peter left his family home in Harrison, NJ and went on a long walk-about. Our family would only know his whereabouts when he gave blood at Red Cross sites. Then, a card would be sent to his next of kin (one of his brothers), stating where he had last been. At some point he finally settled down in San Francisco, CA, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Peter Bernard Doran was born in Harrison, Hudson County, NJ on February 8, 1926, the fifth child of Bernard and Mary Doran. He was named after his uncle Peter Mahoney. The middle name, Bernard, was taken by Peter at his confirmation from Holy Cross Church. He enlisted in the US Navy Reserves on March 23, 1943, at the NRS (Navy Recruiting Station), New York, NY.  His father signed the papers letting him enlist underage when he was 17 years old. These were his physical characteristics in 1943: Height – 5 feet 4 1/2 inches; Weight 120 pounds; Eyes blue; Hair red; Complexion ruddy. Peter  was sent to the Great Lakes, Illinois for boot training, then armed guard training in Gulfport, MS. In New Orleans he was detached for duty on a freighter, the U.S.S. Steel Voyager.

Before enlisting he had been working for Pechter Bread in Harrison filling orders for drivers. He had been paid $32 a week. He had also worked at a thread mill as a “twister doffer” removing full bobbins from a machine and putting on empty ones. He had left Holy Cross School after completing 8th Grade. His three older brother – Bernard, James, and John, had already enlisted for the duration of the war.

The Steel Voyager had been built in 1910 at the Federal Shipbuilding Company in Kearny, New Jersey. It was sunk on September 23, 1943 by a German U-Boat, U-952,  while part of a convoy between England and the USA. This was the event that changed his life. While floating on the seas he started to think how he wanted to live his life. He was on the lifeboat in the Atlantic Ocean for a week, until September 29, 1943. All of the 66 men on the ship survived.  This link has a map that shows where the ship was torpedoed.
By at least November 5, 1943, Peter had been back at sea as a Gunner on the U.S.S Moore. While on leave in Miami he got in a fight on June 2, 1944. This is the report that was included in his Military Personnel Records:  [1. Willfully destroying property (1 spec); 2. Conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline (3 specs: (a) Illegal possession liberty card. (b) Using abusive, obscene and threatening language toward his superior officer. (c) Assaulting a civilian. 3. Breaking arrest (1 spec.). 4. AWOL 2 hours and 25 minutes.
Peter was court-marshaled, and sent to military jail for an 18 month sentence on July 6, 1944,  in Portsmouth, NH. According to the certificate below, he was trained for further duty in the Navy while at the U.S. Naval Prison, in Portsmouth.

PeterBernardDoran4He was separated at Camp Peary, VA on June 15 1945, at age 19 years and 4 months old, with a Bad Conduct Discharge (General Court Martial) as a Seaman First Class. He had served 2/3 of his sentence, and  since his record in prison was satisfactory, he was released. He went back to live with his parents at 525 Hamilton Street in Harrison. His length of foreign or overseas duty was 6 months and 16 days. “Has not decided on type of work he is going to do.”

Peter had served his two years in the U.S. Armed Services. Most likely after his ship was torpedoed and sunk, and his days on the lifeboat, he had acute post-traumatic stress. But there was a war going on, and the need for able-bodied men was high, so he was put right back on another ship, after being issued new clothing, since all he had were the clothes on his back. Another family story about Peter is that after the war he started stepping out with a lady-friend in Harrison, that turned out to still have a husband. When the husband found out, he told Peter he had better leave Harrison or he was going to kill him. So Peter left. He made a living for himself while drifting through different towns across the United States.

At some point he landed in San Francisco and fell in love with that city, and never left except for a few trips back east to see his family. He stayed at one address, 730 Eddy Street, for a few decades until his death. To our knowledge he never married or had children. Below are two photos he sent his brother, that were taken with his girlfriend Lillian. They look so happy together! He lived to be 84 years old – the oldest of any of his seven siblings. Peter died October 14, 2010 at Laguna Honda Hospital, in San Francisco, and his ashes were distributed at sea off the California coast.

Peter Doran and Lillian. "This huge sculpture in the background was by Benny Bufino an Italian artist. The statue is of St. Francis".
Peter Doran and Lillian. “This huge sculpture in the background was by Benny Bufino an Italian artist. The statue is of St. Francis”.
"A pagoda in Golden Cate Park. - Lillian and Peter."
“A pagoda in Golden Cate Park. – Lillian and Peter.”

Maritime Monday is a blogging prompt from Geneabloggers for posting about family members that had anything to do with the sea. Maritime Monday is an ongoing series created by Ros Haywood at the GenWestUK blog.

2 thoughts on “Maritime Monday – Peter Doran, and the Sinking of the Steel Voyager, 1943

  1. I just looked up that where that address was in San Francisco, and I realized that I had stayed just a few blocks away from that block of Eddy Street in 2004 when I went to San Francisco for the first time. I wish I had known!


    1. I think when Jim and Johnny visited Peter it was still in a rather rough section of the city, but that must have changed with real estate appreciation. They went out to eat with him at a restaurant, and he said he was a slow eater, but they just didn’t imagine how slow! Maybe that’s how he stayed so thin all his life!


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