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Dear Ms. Vibbart,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
The fact that the sailors are all enlisted and there are no chief petty officers, warrant officers, or officers in the photograph suggests that this may be a class photograph from a training center or service school. However, there is a slight possibility that this is a crew or ship division photograph. Without additional information, we cannot be more specific.
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[Information provided by Nate Patch, Subject Matter Expert]
Thanks. Would love to know if anyone else has this picture. I found this going through by grandparents pictures . I think it might be of a family member whose navy enlistment was 1/1/1948, Ancestry says Mercer APB 39. His name was Charles Harrison Banks. Unfortunately, I have no contact with any of his remaining family.
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Your relative may have been living aboard USS Mercer (APB-37) after World War II. The Mercer was what the Navy called a self-propelled barracks ship that was converted on a landing ship tank (LST) hull. The Mercer was converted to an APB and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard in September 1945, and she almost immediately began berthing sailors in the New York Navy Yard. She was almost immediately transferred to the Reserve Fleet in January 1946, and she sailed in September 1946 for Orange, Texas. In the spring of 1947, Mercer was transferred to Green Cove Springs, Florida, where she was decommissioned in June 1947. However she still remained in service as a barracks even while decommissioned.
The Mercer was recommissioned in October 1951 and sailed for Norfolk Naval Shipyard where she was overhauled prior to transferring to Naples, Italy as a receiving ship until July 1952. (A receiving ship is where newly-assigned sailors report in to prior to moving on to their new command.) After Naples, the Mercer shifted to Davisville, Rhode Island to act as barracks for Naval Construction Battalion (SeaBees) personnel. Mercer then spent the next three years with the SeaBees, deploying three times to Argentia, Newfoundland, providing berthing for SeaBees working on the facilities at Naval Air Station Argentia.
It is difficult to determine if your photograph was taken aboard the Mercer—I am not familiar with the internal arrangements of these APBs. However, your information can be tied to aspects of Mercer’s post-WWII career. I can surmise that the date of the photograph is sometime after July 1948. The clue is the presence of a lone African American sailor (second row down, second from right). President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 that desegregated the armed forces on July 26.
There are 54 sailors in the photo. I suggest that this photo may have been taken aboard Mercer during the time she acted as a barracks ship in Green Cove Springs, Florida. That location is in the vicinity of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, which was well on its way to become the Navy’s largest and busiest air station on the East Coast by the late 1940s. As Jason noted, there doesn’t appear to be any petty officers in this photo. These men look to be about the same age, and they could have received orders after graduating from boot camp to report to the same duty station. As NAS Jacksonville was growing at this time, there probably wasn’t enough barracks space at the station, hence the use of the Mercer even in its decommissioned state.
Here is an image of the Mercer in 1955.
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thanks for this information. great history.