State Historic Site
ALVIN THOMAS WENTZ was born in Solville, Missouri, in 1889. After spending a few years driving an express wagon in Paola, Kansas, he moved to Sheridan shortly before 1910 and got a job as a locomotive engineer for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad. By June 1917, he had been married and divorced, was living in Baltimore, Maryland, and was working as a brakeman for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Wentz was back in Sheridan before March 1918, at which time he joined the Army Transportation Corps. He served overseas in France, but it was not there that he experienced his greatest war-related adventure. That would have been in the fall of 1916, when the ship he was on was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. His story was printed in The Sheridan Enterprise in March 1918.
After the war, Wentz returned to Sheridan for a brief while before moving east to New York. He was a "portable" (as opposed to a "stationary" engineer in the Bronx, and later a steel construction engineer in Queens. He died in Bayside, New York, in 1970.
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In the summer of 1916, I went across to Europe on a ship that carried ammunition and horses, being one of those in charge of the horses. We crossed all right and landed at Glasgow, Scotland. It was upon our return trip that we fell prey to the German submarine. We sailed from Glasgow on the steamship Marina and were about three days out when the attack occurred.
We were off the southern coast of Ireland and the morning of the third day out, the sea became very choppy and the waves swept across the deck, making it very dangerous. In the early afternoon the storm abated a little, and one of the sailors made the remark that there was no danger of submarines as the sea made it impossible for them to work.
Another sailor had just made the remark that they were nearly out of the danger zone, when without warning, a terrific explosion rocked the ship, striking the starboard side. The ship listed to one side, and there was a wild rush for the lifeboats. Twenty-three of us were lowered in one lifeboat and succeeded in getting away from the ship. I then espied the submarine which came up about a hundred yards from the ship, on the starboard side.
We had a gun mounted on the deck, and the gunner started to fire on the submarine. The captain of the ship whose name was Brown, ordered the gunner not to fire on the submarine because if he missed, the submarine would shell those in the lifeboats.
The submarine, seeing it was about to fired upon, submerged. Captain Brown told men not to go far from the ship, as it would be several hours before it would sink and they would without doubt be rescued by that time. This caused many men to stay on the ship who might have gone in the lifeboats.
The first torpedo struck the ship about 3:45 p.m. and about fifteen minutes later another torpedo fired from the port side struck the vessel amidships and caused an explosion which put the wireless out of commission and stopped the engines. We were about a hundred yards away and the explosion threw missiles up in the air hundreds of feet. The ship broke in half and immediately started to sink. The ends tilted up and I could see men running up the deck and jumping overboard. But it was too late then because they were taken down by the suction of the ship.
The ship folded up and disappeared beneath the waves. The captain went down with his ship and, in all, about forty-seven lost their lives.
The first torpedo killed two firemen and two coal passers. The vessel sank in about two minutes. The first engineer came up from below all covered with soot and a deep gash across his forehead, the blood spurting out and covering his face and clothes. He recovered from his accident, however.
After the ship went down, we saw only one other lifeboat afloat, there being four launched. To prevent being capsized by the waves, we had to keep the boat facing the storm and we had traveled sixty-five miles before we were rescued. We were without any lights and did not know where we were going. It was raining and continued to do so until about 2 o’clock in the morning when it turned into snow. About daylight the storm broke and cleared up until noon and started to rain again.
We sighted a tramp steamer in the distance and tried in vain to signal to them. A little later we saw another steamer, but again failed to attract their attention. It was one of the steamers that picked up the other boats and the occupants informed the captain that we were still adrift. Had it not been for this, we certainly would have perished as our boat was beginning to leak and it later sank a little while after we were rescued. The captain had sent out a patrol looking for us, and it was this boat that rescued us, in the bare nick of time. Through the storm in the distance, I could see a red light and with some difficulty lit two fuses, which burned a red light. The patrol saw us and, before they reached us, the fuses went out, leaving us in total darkness.
We were rescued about 8 o'clock and given dry clothes and hot food, for which we were mighty thankful. They took us to Newton Castle, Burhaven, Ireland. From there we were sent to Dublin. After spending a few days there we took a boat to Wales and then boarded a train from there to Liverpool, returning to Glasgow, Scotland. They held us there for several weeks and then we were put on board the Tuscania (which was recently sunk by a German submarine with American soldiers on board), arriving in New York last November.
Some of the boys could not come when we did as they had not sufficiently recovered from their exposure.
As a result of my experience in Europe and on the seas, though I am only 28 years old, I have many gray hairs. I suppose I will have more grey hairs as I am going back over again in the near future.