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Bob Maroney is one tough Irishman. The 92 year-old survived bomb and torpedo attacks during World War II, while serving in the Merchant Marine. Bob didn't stop fighting when the war ended. He and his fellow seamen struggled to become eligible for veteran benefits. Though Bob's ships were equipped with guns, they weren't considered to be part of the "armed forces." Bob and his cohorts were finally admitted into VA hospitals in 1988.
For Bob, though, the battle to help veterans never ends. He's hoping to raise money for Hines VA and the Wounded Warrior Project, by selling ads. He purchased a monitor for displaying the ads and has shopped it around to various venues. There's been some interest from Forest Park business owners.
He got the idea of placing revenue-generating monitors in businesses from his previous job. Bob used to travel the country scouting locations for the installation of gumball machines and pinball games. The monitors have unlimited capacity and would display ads for twenty seconds at a time. Bob plans to charge advertisers $135 for three months of a continuous running ad. One third of the proceeds would go to the VFW and other veteran causes.
But, getting back to Bob's wartime service, he was 20 when he volunteered for the Merchant Marine. Up to that point, the only "ship" he had seen was a rowboat in Garfield Park. Bob was assigned to the engine room and concentrating on machinery kept him from getting seasick.
He sailed on countless Liberty ships and kept his seaman papers from each one. During his five and a half years, Bob survived several bombings. He was also torpedoed off the coast of North Africa. It took four months to replace the bow in Gibraltar.
The Merchant Marines had the highest casualty rate of any branch of the service. One out of every 26 men was killed in action during WWII Ð surpassing the Marine Corp. Over 1,500 of their ships were sunk.
At the peak of production, shipyards were turning out a new Liberty ship every 42 days.
These ships convoyed essential materials to the war effort, including tanks, planes and locomotives. Food, clothing, ammunition, medical supplies Ð it all had to be sent by ship. Every Allied leader acknowledged the crucial role the Merchant Marine played in winning the war.
Comedian Bob Hope might have been speaking about another Bob, when he said, "It takes nerve to work in a hot engine room, never knowing when a torpedo might smash the hull and send tons of sea water to snuff out your life."
Members of the Merchant Marine have been called forgotten heroes. But Bob never forgets the price his fellow veterans paid. He visits them at Hines and hopes his ad machine will generate some much-needed money for them.