Andrew Kurn “Andy” Wong (Primary Source)

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.


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Andrew Wong in 2009.
(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Andrew Kurn Wong)

"So he said, “Geez, I noticed you’re a Canadian.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “How do you like the American ships?” I said, “Gee, they’re like castles compared to the Canadian.”"

Transcript

After I joined the merchant marine, I came back. I was in town one day and I went down to the Crystal Garden to go for a swim. But the woman behind the box office challenge me. She said, “I can’t let you in because you’re Oriental.” So I told her, I said, “I’m in the merchant marine,” I said, “you can’t stop me.” And then so after we discussed things a while, she let me in.

Once I was inside, the staff inside were just the opposite, they were so friendly. But then within ten years, I was running my own water safety program in the Crystal Garden. I was hoping to get into the Air Force. But when I approach the Air Force, they had a full complement and they weren’t taking any new recruits. And the same applied with the Navy, until someone told me, they said, “Why don’t you go into the Merchant Navy?” And then I remembered that when I was going through high school, on a couple summer holidays, I served on the CPR [Canadian Pacific Line] passenger ships on the coast there. The CPR policy in those days was if you’re Oriental, you automatically go into the galley. And I wanted to sail on the deck, which I wasn’t able to do.

So anyways, I went to Vancouver and signed up with the Northern Steamship Company, which had two coastal freighters. And from those freighters, I learned how to work on the deck, both as deck and quartermaster. A quartermaster is the one that steers the ship. And from there, I went with the Canadian Merchant Navy, which had the Park ships for the transport goods across the ocean.

It just so happened, this American Liberty ship came in. They were short one crew member. And since it was my time to ship out, they put on that ship, which I sailed on, over to Europe, to France, and then we came back to Mobile, Alabama. Under international agreement, after signing off that ship, I was supposed to go back to Vancouver where I signed on. But when we were in Mobile, the port captain there, he happened to be a former Torontonian, so when he was aboard the ship, he noticed I was Canadian. So he said, “Geez, I noticed you’re a Canadian.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “How do you like the American ships?” I said, “Gee, they’re like castles compared to the Canadian.” And he said, “Would you like to stay on it?” I said, “No, I have to go back to Vancouver where I signed on.” So he said, “If you want, I can arrange to get you your American seaman’s papers, then you can stay here.”

So I said, gee, I thought that was a nice opportunity, so I took him up on it and a couple days he came back to the ship with all the necessary papers for me to sign and then within a few days, I was sworn in as an American merchant seaman. But even after the war ended, with the Merchant Navy, the danger was still there. We were encountering floating mines in the ocean and the ships were still being sunk, although not as frequently as it was during the war.

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