39 Days Adrift

It’s evident that the men in this photograph were survivors of some terrible ordeal. Their sunken eyes and gaunt faces are without expression. At 4:30 am on November 28, 1943, a German torpedo crippled the SS ALASKIN a 5,369-ton cargo vessel. Her captain was Edwin Earle Greenlaw of Searsport, Maine. Born in nearby Rockport, Maine in 1901, he began sailing Friendship sloops, then worked on coal and oil ships and for the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company. His time at sea probably prepared him for the challenge that lay ahead.

The attacking German sub surfaced and ordered the men to abandon ship. Leaving last, after a brief interrogation by the Germans, Greenlaw was set adrift in a life raft with eight crew, 400 miles from shore in the south Atlantic. Three days later they found one of the ALASKIN’s lifeboats and made a sail and mast using their only tool, Greenlaw’s pocket knife. They survived the coming weeks on life boat rations and the fish and birds they caught. Thirty nine days later, they reached French Guiana. Greenlaw continued as a captain for another 18 years. He died in 1963 and was buried in Gordon’s Cemetery in Searsport.

Why 39 Days Adrift?
When gazing at the photographed faces of people who have been through a life threatening ordeal, one is compelled by feelings of sympathy and compassion. One wants to know the story, though the image creates an emotional impact on its own. The fact that this powerful photo tells the story of a local hero makes it an obvious choice for the 20 Best.

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